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Spaniard Jordi Quintana (extreme left) celebrates with his teammates after scoring his team's equaliser against the Dutch in the hockey World Cup in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday. - Photo: Vino John
KUALA LUMPUR, FEB. 28. Now it is Russian roulette. No soothsayer can forecast how the dice will roll as the mystique of spotting the qualifiers gets curiouser and curiouser in the hockey World Cup. On a grey afternoon defending champion, Holland, went Dutch with its old foe and finalist at the last edition in Utrecht, Spain, in a Pool A encounter. And before the day dissolved into history, Argentina, demonstrating the true meaning of fortitude and pugnacity, prevailed over Pakistan after conceding an early goal.
True, the Dutch-Spain contest was not anywhere near the dramatic final as it was four years ago on that warm afternoon at the Stadion Galgenwaard. But there were shades that brought back memories of that memorable final as the teams battled for full points. If the Dutch thought the match was theirs by half-time, when they led 1-0, it turned out to be a mirage; Spain hit back with the equaliser and even threatened to forge ahead.
Buoyed by the way they stopped the victory sequence of the Germans on Wednesday, the Spaniards played with a touch of assurance, rarely ruffled by the bursts of speed, style and system that the Dutch always present against their rivals. The Spaniards also proved that their win against Germany was no fluke, and they earned it through the sheer dint of hard work, harmony and honing out their skills.
Looking back, one may even be tempted to state that the subdued approach of the Spaniards was dictated by a programmed tactical formulation than from the pressure exerted by the Dutchmen. On the face it, there were stressful moments for the Spanish defence against the consistent probing by Teun di Nooijer supported by Eric Jazart in the mid-field along with Jerome Delmee. Nooijer was not alone in creating the openings; Remco van Wijk and Buma Jaap Derk also contributed their mite to keep the rival defence on its toes.
Holland went into the lead thanks to a brilliant effort by Karel Klaver midway in the first session. Picking the ball on the fringes of the 25-yard line, Karel dodged the defenders with the grace and ease of ballet dancer to beat Bernardino Herrera. It was an effort that deserved that prize, and the approbation of the Dutch supporters who are here to witness the Championship.
Notwithstanding the two penalty corners in this half, Spain had to start the second half with a deficit. From the trend of play it looked as though the Dutch would carry the day. There was an element of urgency and pressure in their approach. But the frontline failed to make the best of everything. Even the usually impeccable Bram Lomans failed with a drag flick from a penalty corner. Both Ronald Brouwer and di Nooijer, who cut in incisively, failed to finish in a one-on-one situation against goal-keeper Herrera.
But suddenly the focus shifted across to where Juan Escarre and Exavier Arnau began to trouble the Dutch. A quick sally involving the energetic Eduard Tubau led to a tight situation in the Dutch area. The penalty corner that ensued was delectably converted by Jordi Quintana. Inspired by this turn of events, the Spaniards attacked with gusto. Xavier Arnau almost made the winning goal, darting his way through the defence only to hit the sideboard. The outcome brought Spain and Netherlands on par at the top with 10 points each.
Argentina puts it past Pakistan
Pakistan was put in a tight spot by Argentina. With three matches remaining against giants Holland, Germany and Spain, what is left for Pakistan en route to the semifinals remains to be seen. Everything was looking well for Pakistan early in the contest and when Sohail Abbas sunk in a penalty corner the script was moving perfectly.
But Argentina rallied in the second, forcing the pace and working out sizzling moves using Jorge Lombi from the middle and Almeida from the wing. Midway through Thomas MacCormik produced a delightful equaliser and not long after came the match winner from Matias Pardes, who hooked himself to a pass from the left to score.
Ironically, Argentina forced 11 penalty corners and converted none, despite having a player like Lombi. Pakistan had seven.
Winless New Zealand shocked South Africa in Pool A netting the crucial goal in the last quarter. Skipper Simon Towns put the Kiwis ahead but before half time Greg Nicol deflected in a penalty corner. Bevan Hari scored the match winner.
Germany recovered its poise after the defeat against Spain beating Belgium by three goals to nil. Sebastian Biederlack, Sascha Reinelt and Bjorn Michel scored for Germany.
Friday's matches: Australia v Cuba (1-35 p.m. IST), Poland v Japan (3-05 p.m.); England v India (3-35 p.m.); Malaysia v Korea (5-35 p.m.)
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