Bhubaneswar: France’s fairytale run in the Hockey World Cup continued as they pipped China 1-0 on Monday here to qualify for the quarter-finals. Timothee Clement scored for Les Blues.
In the quarter-final on Wednesday, they will take on defending champions Australia, who are in the midst of a record 16-match winning streak in the World Cup.
France, in the first quarter, showed a greater intent to attack than China. Their two shots on goals, nine circle entries, four penalty corners in this phase are proofs. But in their defence, China was obdurate. They scrambled, dived, struggled, got hit – one of their players was even stretchered off – but conceded no goals.
The best moment of the first quarter came around the 13th minute, when France made four back-to-back, albeit unsuccessful, penalty corners. It was, in fact, stretched to four because the first three corners – drag-flicked by French captain Victor Charlet repeatedly to the right – was blocked by the shins of an onrushing Jin Guo.
Poor Guo was on the ground, wincing, while he stopped Charlet’s third attempt and was stretchered off after Charlet’s fourth, which the goalkeeper saved, diving leftward. As Guo was being carried off the field, Charlet ran towards him and patted on his shoulder in a sweet second of sportsmanship.
Both teams came close to scoring a goal in the second quarter. Charles Masson made a brilliant run along the right flank and – instead of scooping the ball to Viktor Lockwood at goalmouth – made an unsuccessful attempt at scoring. For China, Wenhui at goalmouth, despite stretching, couldn’t connect a ball that was crossed from right.
France broke the deadlock in the 36th minute, when Timothee Clement deflected Maximilien Branicki’s drive from the edge of the circle into the net. Lockwood had sprinted superbly along the left flank to feed the ball to Branicki.
France created more opportunities (including two penalty corners) in the final quarter but failed to add to their tally.