Spain and France draw sets up dramatic final day of group stages

©: Frank Uijlenbroek / World Sport Pics

Spain and France shared a dramatic draw to leave them scrambling to try and grab something in their last group game to see if they can advance to the knock-out stages of the competition.

France struck early in the contest when Victor Charlet’s perfect backhand pass was guided home from close range by Timothée Clément, who changed the trajectory of the ball to give Spain shot-stopper Quico Cortes little hope of saving.

The Red Sticks dominated the second quarter, setting up camp in the opposition half but unable to get the goal that their endeavour deserved thanks to some excellent saves from France goalkeeper Arthur Thieffry.

While a penalty corner drag-flick from France captain Victor Charlet forced a fine save from Cortes in the third quarter, it was the Spaniards who remained on top and finally got their equaliser early in the fourth period.

Alvaro Iglesias was the scorer, completing a slick passing move that cut through the France defence and allowed Spain’s number nine the easiest of finishes. Although it proved to be the final goal of the game, France missed a gilt-edged opportunity to claim all three points when a penalty stroke from Hugo Geneset was brilliantly saved by a diving Cortes.

“Quico was the best player of the game”, said Spain’s Marc Salles – who made his 200th senior international appearance in the match – after the game.

“When you have a goalkeeper who makes a save from a penalty stroke, you can only congratulate him. We are pleased with the draw in the end but we want to keep getting better and better in this tournament.”

In the second game, Argentina moved within touching distance of the quarter-finals with their second win, beating New Zealand 3-0.

Agustin Mazzilli picked out the top corner for 1-0 in the second quarter with a terrific backhand. Lucas Vila made it two with a blistering finish past the left hand of Black Sticks goalkeeper Richard Joyce.

The match scoring was completed by Lucas Martinez five minutes from the end, who dived in to make it 3-0 from close range after Argentina’s initial penalty corner attempt had been blocked.

“It was a great game for us”, said Mannheimer HC's Lucas Vila, who was named Odisha Player of the Match, at the end of the game. “I think our defence was really strong and in attack we took our chances and scores some good goals. Its only two games so there is a long way to go, but I think we are in a good way and now we have a few days to make some little changes.”

What it means for the playoff places is that France and Spain are on one point and New Zealand on three. A win for the Spanish against New Zealand would assure their passage to the crossover matches; for France their passage will be affected by how they do against Los Leones and as much as the other group game.

Tuesday’s games see Australia play England while Ireland take on China. England co-captain Ian Sloan said: “We are looking forward to taking on Australia in what will be a highly competitive encounter.

“We created a lot of chances in game one [against China] and are focusing on being better in both Ds in game two. We know that if we do that, we will have a good chance of getting a positive result.”