Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Olympic Hockey 2012 - Men's Group B round-up

With Netherlands and Germany now qualified from this group, it's time to look back on how the group matches went. You can find the Group A round-up here.

Group B
Group B of the Men's Olympic Hockey was never going to be close. Netherlands and Germany were the favourites to ease out of this group with the only real question being, in what order? In the end, it turned out to be far too easy for both of them and while there were some interesting matches, it was all about who wanted to be there and who didn't.

In their opening match, the Netherlands found themselves up against India. This proved to be a fascinating match with both teams initially looking like they could win it. In the end, Netherlands ran out 3-2 winners and that defeat seemed to completely demoralise the India team. In the next game, Netherlands faced off against their close neighbours, Belgium. A 3-1 win but Belgium showed that they were not there to just make up the numbers. Netherlands had to work for this and at the end, it could be argued the scoreline was more than flattering to Netherlands.

New Zealand posed little challenge for Netherlands and the 5-1 scoreline could have been much worse for New Zealand. Netherlands were now hitting their stride and looking to send a message to their key rivals in this group, Germany, who they faced next.

Netherlands vs Germany was an easier game for Netherlands than expected. Germany have yet to really fire on all cylinders in this tournament and found it hard to score past Netherlands goalkeeper Jaap Stockmann, who is very fast for such a big man. The final result was 3-1 to the Netherlands and if Germany are to win this tournament, they have to do better when presented with chances.

In their final group game, Netherlands faced Korea who put up some resistance scoring two goals but the Netherlands were too fast, too strong and too clinical. This fifth win meant that Netherlands men join their Ladies side as the only teams to qualify for the semi-finals with a perfect record.

Germany had hoped to match the Netherlands during qualification but their overall performances looked just a little flat. The finishing was not as sharp as in previous tournaments and at times, they were just a little lucky to get the results they needed.

They opened their campaign with a 2-1 win over Belgium and a 1-0 win over Korea. Neither match was convincing but with no other big teams in their group, they were able to ride their luck and get away with their poor finishing. Against India, Germany finally started to look a table topping contender and although India have disappointed in this tournament, Germany's 5-2 win was comfortable.

Losing 3-1 to Netherlands in the next game was definately not part of the German plan and the team looked sluggish in attack and weak in defence. How much that match took out of Germany we don't know but when the faced New Zealand two days later in an end to end, fast and furious match, they were pulled about all over the pitch. It's fair to say that no-one, including the New Zealand team, would have expected it to end 5-5 and this is far from an ideal semi-final preparation for Germany.

Belgium are one of those mid ranked nations that are very capable of causing an upset. Against both Germany and Netherlands they had the chance to do just that but were unable to take their chances and steal the points. Instead they were beaten 2-1 and 3-1 respectively.

The matches against Korea and New Zealand were much more balanced. These three teams were fairly evenly matched throughout this tournament and Belgium won a hard fought 2-1 victory over Korea and were then held to a 1-1 draw by New Zealand. In their final match against India, Belgium were able to freely pass the ball around, build attacks and take their time. India had, by this time, capitulated.

Korea has done well to climb to world rankings over the last few years and its performances here were creditable although not spectacular. A 2-0 opening win against New Zealand in the first game of the tournament was just what they needed to give them the confidence to take the game to Germany in their next match. They might have lost that game 1-0 but they spurned their chances and that cost them the upset.

A narrow loss 2-1 to Belgium was followed by a comprehensive 4-1 win over India. In their final game they lost to a strong and clinical Netherlands although their two goals against the world ranked number one team, will give them some belief that they can do better in their next tournament.

New Zealand were looking to both improve on past performance at major tournaments and match their ladies team. In the end, they achieved neither although had the mid table battle with Korea and Belgium gone in their favour, they could have put Germany under pressure for second in the group.

A 2-0 loss to Belgium was followed by a 3-1 win over India. If this gave them hope, losing 5-1 to a dominant Netherlands and then drawing 1-1 with Belgium probably extinguished it. But the Olympics is about fighting for every point. Their last match was a 5-5 draw against Germany and as exciting as it was to watch it was all too little, too late.

And that brings us finally to India. This was a nightmare for them. They finished without a single point, the only team in both the Men's and Ladies competition to do so. With the exception of their opening game against Netherlands, there wasn't any point at which India looked likely to cause an upset or even take points of the rest of the group. This is a sad indictment of the state of Indian hockey at the moment and unless something is done quickly and decisively to reverse this sitation, this may be the last we see of India outside of the Commonwealth Games and the Asia Cup.

Semi-finals and beyond
Netherlands look like they are hitting their best form at just the right time although having watched them for several decades, there never seems to be a wrong time for them in major tournaments. Their next opponents are Great Britain and on paper this looks like an easy match to call. Great Britain have struggled in a couple of their games but these two sides know each other very well.

The key will be the crowd. If Great Britain can hook into that Olympic spirit and use it to keep themselves running for the whole 70 minutes, this game could just go either way. Both sides have great proponents of the drag flick at penalty corners and goalkeepers who, on their day, can lift their teams. Ultimately, this will be about a battle in the middle of the pitch and the Netherlands might just have the edge.

The other semi-final will see a misfiring Germany face a strong and dominant Australia who have been scoring at will throughout this tournament. Both sides have weaknesses but Germany have been the more hesitant and facing a side that has scored 23 goals, they may just have to settle for the bronze medal match.

No comments:

Post a Comment