Wales (World Ranking:24) have established a firm grip on the top of Pool A after they maintained their winning ways with a hard-fought match against Belarus. Canada (WR:10) will be relieved to have registered a win, after they beat Austria and got their FIH Series Final campaign underway.
Austria v Canada
This was very much a match of changng fortunes as Austria (WR:19) took the lion’s share of the possession in the first half but were unable to convert their chances. Poor finishing and some great goalkeeping from David Carter in the Canada goal proved the undoing of the European side.
Austria won the first penalty corner of the game but the Canada team prides itself on its defence and dealt with it well. Carter pulled off another great save and his defence cleared efficiently. The half drew to a close with Canada perhaps lucky not to have conceded.
In the second half, it was Canada who came out of the break with a fierce intent to take all three points. Player of the Match Keegan Pereira was proving a handful to the Austrian defence with his jinking runs and just three minutes into the half, a through ball found Jamie Wallace in space. The young player cut neatly inside the defender and placed the ball into the Austrian goal.
Austria are nothing if not resilient and they were soon pressuring the Canada defence but this left gaps in their own defence and ten minutes after they had taken the lead, Canada were able to double that lead. Some nifty work around the circle afforded Keegan Pereira the chance to fire home.
Austria pulled a goal back in the 52nd minute through Leon Thornblom but it was too little too late and the resolute Canada team kept hold of the lead to the final whistle.
“We created a few chances and we won a few corners and they are normally our strength,” said Benjamin Stanzl, speaking after the game.
“In the second half Wales scored an early goal and that was like the winner for them because in these [hot and humid] conditions it is pretty hard to fight back.”
The scorer of Canada’s first goal, Jamie Wallace, said: “It get good to get the first goal and really get our tournament going. It also settled the nerves a bit, taking the lead.
“We were able to set the tempo and take control of the match.”
Wales v Belarus
Belarus took an early lead against Wales through a great strike from Uladzislau Belavusau in the fourth minute. The Welsh regrouped after this set-back and were able to reduce the deficit through Player of the Match Gareth Furlong just seven minutes later through a well-worked penalty corner.
The next two quarters were a war of attrition as the two teams – both of who had worked incredibly hard in their earlier pool match the day before – struggled to cope with the hot, humid conditions. It was Wales who looked the sharper, with some neat passing moves, particularly in the middle of the pitch, but the Belarus team was solid and held the higher-ranked team at bay.
The fourth quarter saw the difference in fitness between the two sides begin to tell as Wales pressed higher up the field. Much of this pressure came from the silky stick skills of Jacob Draper and the hardworking captain Luke Hawker.
The winning goal came from Furlong. It was an absolute fizzer of a strike that flew into the bottom corner of the goal.
Belarus removed their ‘keeper Aliaksei Ramanishkin and, with a player advantage, they won a penalty corner. Welsh spectators held their breath but the ensuing shot went wide and, seconds later Wales celebrated moving to the top of the Pool.
“It wasn’t our best performance,” said Owain Dolan-Gray, speaking after the game. “But we have been playing well for some time now and now our progress is beginning to show.”
“We have had some very good results lately. And the incredible atmosphere here is helping us develop our confidence and enjoyment. Now we will recover and come back to make it three from three.”