Bhubaneswar: France might exit the Kalinga Stadium on Monday a little confused. A 1-1 draw against Spain, a team ranked 12 places above them, should be a cause of contentment for the 20th ranked team in the world (also the lowest-ranked in the Hockey World Cup). But they would also rue missing a 52nd minute penalty stroke that would have helped them pull off an upset that would have increased their chance of getting into the crossover stage.
Spain, meanwhile, would be clear about their dissatisfaction. The explosive vigour seen in their match against Argentina (which they lost 3-4) three days ago was absent against France.
In the first quarter, they slipped, dropped their sticks on a couple of occasions, let France trespass their circle seven times, failed in converting two penalty corners and conceded a goal (which Timothee Clement scored in the sixth minute). Seconds before the quarter ended, Spain’s coach Frederic Soyez sneaked a peek at his computer, perhaps attempting to figure out what his team was doing wrong.
Among the things that they did right in the first quarter was moving well from the left. They continued doing that in the second, had the ball longer, and earned as many penalty corners as they did in first quarter. The security provided by French defence and their goalkeeper Arthur Thieffry, however, was top-notch. On a couple of occasions, the defenders rushed out – putting their bodies on the line – to parry Spain’s drag-flicks.
Spain’s coach Soyez said during the half-time that his team needed to create more penalty corners and be more efficient with the ball.
The French, underdogs in the match, needed to be on their toes against the impending Spanish attack. Despite a one-goal lead, they were under pressure and needed to win the one-on-one battles against their higher-ranked opponents for the next two quarters.
They sighed in relief in the 33rd minute when Enrique Gonzalez, from the goalmouth, missed deflecting into the net a brilliant pass from the right by Pau Quemada. A minute later, Gonzalez’s hit from the goalmouth was cleared away by the goalkeeper.
But Spain equalised 12 minutes ahead of the finish. Alvaro Iglesias, in front of the French net, completed a goal that was constructed with five short, quick passes.
Then came the decisive moment in the match. Ricardo Sanchez’s reckless tackle of Gaspard Baumgarten within the former’s penalty circle earned France a penalty stroke. But Hugo Genestet’s low drive was read and cleared away by the Spanish skipper Quico Cortes.
Both teams, then, frantically sought the winner, involving in end-to-end hockey and wild hitting in the last five minutes but a goal remained elusive thereafter. This was the teams’ first point of the tournament in Pool A as well.