England 3 (2)
Ward (12’ PC, 14’ PC, 60’ PC)
Spain 2 (1)
Quemada (27’ PC), Lleonart (49’ FG)
England’s men secured their place in the EuroHockey Championships semi-finals with a gripping 3-2 victory over Spain.
With the stakes high going into the match, the early nerves were quickly settled as Sam Ward’s brilliant first-quarter brace, both coming from sublime drag flicks, put England firmly in the driver’s seat.
Spain ensured England’s progression to the semi-finals wouldn’t come without a fight, Pau Quemada’s flick bringing one back before half-time to keep the game close.
Whilst England only needed a draw to progress, Spain required a two-goal victory and signalled their attacking intent by removing their goalkeeper for the final-quarter, the decision quickly paying off as Lleonart was credited with the equaliser little over ten minutes from time.
Having ground the clock down with resilient defensive work, the team pushed up-field in the dying minutes, Ward securing his hattrick with a third penalty corner goal with the final moment of the match to secure a 3-2 victory and advance to the semi-finals.
The result means that England, who remain unbeaten in the competition, finish top of Pool A and will discover their semi-final opponents - the match to take place on Thursday 10 June at 16:00 - after this evening's game between Wales and The Netherlands.
England were looking threatening from the start, Liam Ansell feeding Phil Roper, whose shot flew narrowly wide of the goal in what was the first big chance of the match.
With little over ten minutes on the clock the deadlock was broken, Ward rifling his drag flick into the backboard to propel England into the lead.
Ward was at it again just minutes later, stepping up for another penalty corner and repeating the feat with a second stunning drag flick to double the advantage.
Ollie Payne preserved the lead with a pair of phenomenal saves, the first a lightning-fast reaction to a deflection, the second a spectacular diving save to parry the ball over the crossbar as the young goalkeeper looked sharp early on.
There was nothing Payne could do about the next one, Quemada hurtling the ball into the far corner to convert one of their penalty corners and close the gap.
Zach Wallace tested Quico Cortes in the final minute of the half, his first attempt well saved by the Spanish ‘keeper before the follow-up drifted narrowly wide.
The second-half continued in the same vein with both sides creating chances and testing the opposition’s defensive resolve.
Ward looked to have played the perfect ball into Chris Griffiths to finish from close range, but a perfectly timed interception ensured the English forward wouldn’t be given the chance to score.
Spain showed their attacking intent by withdrawing their goalkeeper for the entirety of the final quarter as the team sought the all-important goals to see them through.
It didn’t take long for the move to pay off, Xavi Lleonart playing the ball into the circle where a wicked deflection off an English stick took the ball into the goal.
England were under intense pressure from the Spanish onslaught, incredible work on numerous occasions from Payne in goal and the defence in front of him to repel the litany of chances falling Spain’s way.
With time running short, England made a late venture up the other end of the field and were rewarded with a penalty corner. With the previous two attempts being charged down, Ward bagged his hattrick with a third goal from a penalty corner, his thumping effort flying down the middle of the open net to guarantee victory and progression to the semi-finals, as well as confirming World Cup qualification.
The result means that England top Pool A and will discover their opponents after this evening's match between The Netherlands and Wales, with their semi-final match scheduled for Thursday 10 June at 16:00 – live on BT Sport.
After the match, David Ames commented:
“We’re delighted. We were really good in the first-half, in the second-half we had to weather the storm and they took their keeper off which makes it harder. But collectively I thought we were awesome late on and managed to win the game.
“Ollie Payne has been incredible for us. He made some great saves today and has had an incredible couple of months. He’s at the top of his game which is great for such a young guy and he’s one we’ll hold onto for the future as well.
“It’s a good tournament to play in and we’ve really had to be on our game. We’ve been solid in the three group games and now we’ve got two massive matches at the weekend.
“It doesn’t matter who we play, when you get to the semis of a European Championship it will be tough. I think we’ve got 4 of the world’s top 5 teams here. We’ll be ready.”
Starting XI: Ames, Martin, Griffiths, Ward, Roper, Dixon (C), Creed, Payne (C), Gall, Sorsby, Wallace
Subs (Used): Sloan, Goodfield, Ansell, Waller, Sanford, Calnan
Subs (Unused): Pinner (GK)