Two high intensity games saw Brazil (World Ranking: 27) and Wales (WR:24) end their FIH Series Finals campaigns on a winning note.
For Brazil, it was a case of showing resilience to come from behind on three occasions as they beat Belarus (WR:31), while Wales will reflect back on a tournament that saw them win three of five matches including victories over two teams who are ranked higher in the FIH World Rankings, including their final opponents, China (WR:14).
Belarus v Brazil
The play-off match to decide seventh and eighth place saw Belarus put some early pressure on Brazil but a series of penalty corners failed to yield any goals. Rodrigo Faustino pulled off some acrobatic saves but Belarus’ cause was not helped by a series of poor inputs to the penalty corner routine.
The second quarter saw a goal flurry as Belarus took a lead through a fine penalty corner from Aliaksandr Hancharou and then doubled that lead five minutes later when Uladzislau Belavusau scored from open play after some good pressure by the Belarus forwards.
But Brazil have shown they are capable of their own creativity and just seconds later Matheus Borges scored from a penalty corner and Gabriel de Grandis made it 2-2 just before the half-time break.
The goal-fest continued in the third quarter. Brazil went ahead for the first time through Fabio Assis but saw that lead cancelled when Artur Adran rifled a penalty corner into the top of the net.
For the final quarter the game reached higher levels of intensity as both teams sought the goal that would mean they left the event on a winning note. Belarus came close on may occasions but it was Brazil who grabbed the vital final goal. Lucas Paixo smashed the ball home, after some good build up play by the Brazil forwards.
Player of the Match went to Paul Duncker, who was the architect of much of Brazil’s attacking play.
“We didn’t achieve the results we wanted at this tournament, so winning the last game was important to keep the guys motivated,” said goal scorer Gabriel de Grandis.
“Playing here in Malaysia is a great experience and playing these teams really shows us the points we need to improve,” he added.
China v Wales
China got off to the best of starts in the 5/6th place play-off match against Wales. Dong Yang, who celebrated 100 caps for his country the previous day, was on hand to fire the ball home after the Welsh defence were unable to clear a loose ball. The goal took Dong’s tally to three. propelling him into the ranks of one of the top scorers in the competition.
The opening quarter went very much the way of the higher-ranked team, with China pressing the Welsh team and constantly probing for gaps in the Welsh defence.
That all changed when Jacob Draper was able to burst through the China defence and rifle the ball home past the China goalkeeper Yan Rongyao.
This opened the way for an onslaught of attacking play from Wales and two further goals. The first goal was a penalty corner from Gareth Furlong. The shot flew into the roof of the net and took Furlong’s personal tally to three. The second goal was credited to James Carson after his speculative shot deflected off a Chinese player’s stick over the ‘keeper’s head.
The third quarter yielded no further goals although China were probably the stronger of the two teams in terms of possession. A series of penalty corners in China’s favour were dealt with by Ieuan Tranter in the Welsh goal.
China finally got the breakthrough they needed when Su Lixing scored one of his trademark penalty corners. With the score at 3-2, Wales settled into a game of possession while China chased and harried in a last ditch attempt to find an equaliser.
The final whistle provided relief for Wales who had ended a strong campaign with a hard-fought win. For China there was a sense of frustration that the team had not managed to turn chances into goals.
“After conceding a goal early on, we settled down and started to play the hockey we wanted to play,” said goal scorer Draper. “We managed to pass nicely and controlled the game. We dug in well at the end and showed we had strong legs.”
“We scored three great team goals and they came from all over the pitch,” he added.