ENGLAND 3 (1) - 2 (0) INDIA
James Tindall 16 (F) Gurwinder Singh Chandi 54 (F)
Ashley Jackson 42, 47 (PC, F) Rajpal Singh 57 (F)

In testing circumstances, England’s men’s hockey team qualified for their first World Cup semi final in 24 years and extended their best ever start to a World Cup tournament as they beat hosts India in Delhi on Saturday. Goals from Surbiton’s James Tindall and two from World Young Player of the Year Ashley Jackson and Loughborough Students’ Nick Catlin were enough to put England into the semi finals with one pool match still to play.

Australia’s 2-0 victory over Spain in the day’s first match meant that Jason Lee’s squad went into the match knowing a draw would be enough to put them into the last four but they faced a battle against a team that had the support of a capacity partisan home crowd.

Before the game, much of the build up focused on the loss of England’s man of steel Richard Mantell following his dislocation and fracture injury sustained against Pakistan on Thursday. Dan Fox came back into the squad to replace Mantell with Ben Hawes joining Richard Smith at the heart of the defence.

The near 16000 strong crowd began the match cheering every Indian touch and their voices rose to a crescendo in just the third minute when they believed India had opened the scoring. However, the touch into the English goal had come from Beeston’s Adam Dixon as he got in ahead of the waiting foward to defend a cross from Arjun Halappa.

Reading forward Jonty Clarke tested Indian goalkeeper Adrian D’Souza a minute later but the goalkeeper stood up to clear with his feet. Not long after, he watched as Ashley Jackson flashed a powerful low reverse stick effort wide after pouncing on a defensive mistake inside the 23 metre area.

Initially, England appeared content to sit in as India pressed them inside their half and the hosts won their first corner of the game in the 11th minute after a bobbling ball hit the foot of Dan Fox. To the obvious disappointment of the home fans the corner broke down.

On 14 minutes Reading’s Iain Mackay left the field to receive treatment after he was caught in the face by the stick on an Indian player but two minutes later the reigning European Champions were ahead.

Loughborough Students’ Nick Catlin was given time on the left from where he cut inside and played a pass into the circle which Richard Alexander deflected towards the back post. Waiting in space at the back was Alexander’s Surbiton colleague James Tindall who was left with time to make sure of his finish as he quietened the crowd with his third goal of the tournament to give England the lead.

Immediately after the re-start, Rob Moore could have doubled England’s lead as he latched on to a bouncing through ball inside the circle but Adrian D’Souza was out quickly to block the Surbiton forward’s shot and Tindall’s follow up flew over the bar.

Looking for a way back into the game the Indians began to lash the ball into the English circle. On 19 minutes a raised ball did end up beyond goalkeeper James Fair but the umpires had already blown for the danger as it entered the circle at height.

Just over a quarter of the way through the match and the game was still being played at a frenetic pace. At the other end, HGC’s Barry Middleton found his way through the Indian defence and onto the right baseline where he looked to pick out the diving Rob Moore on the far post. But for the intervention of D’Souza at full stretch he might have succeeded but the goalkeeper’s touch was just enough to take the ball over the stick of Moore.

Shivrenda Singh’s break upfield then caused the back pedalling English defence a problem. Chased by Dan Fox, the Indian number 18 broke into the right hand side of the English circle where he was met by the advancing James Fair. As Fair went to ground it looked as though Shivrenda would level the score but the Cannock goalkeeper recovered excellently to block the shot at point black range on the dive.

Just before the half hour mark James Tindall wasted a glorious opportunity to score another after Richard Alexander found him in space inside the circle. With time and space to pick his shot, he snatched at it and blazed over, much to the relief of the hosts’ defence who had left him unmarked.

Aside from a couple of quick Indian breaks, England’s pressure was looking promising. With 30 minutes on the clock Barry Middleton and Alastair Brogdon combined well inside the circle where Brogdon’s shot forced D’Souza into a save.

The last action of the half came at England’s end where India were awarded a second penalty corner after the ball came up off the stick of Ben Hawes. Diwakar’s first contribution to the match was to flick low down the centre of the goal but Fair blocked with his legs and reacted quickest to clear the ball with his foot before the follow up.

1-0 to England at half time and a position that would put them through to Thursday’s semi finals if things stayed that way.

As in the first period, India began the second half on the front foot, forcing England to defend in numbers. Rajpal Singh almost brought India level with four minutes of the half played when he received the ball on the penalty spot and held off Richard Smith to spin and push a shot narrowly wide of the base of James Fair’s right post.

That miss was to cost India dearly just over two minutes later.

At the other end England were awarded their only penalty corner of the match. With no Richard Mantell, England turned to Ashley Jackson who had scored in each of England’s matches in Delhi. From Glenn Kirkham’s push out the World Young Player of the Year flicked high and hard to the glove side of Adrian D’Souza where the ball hit the back of the net half a metre inside the top of the post. 2-0 England and a real blow to the home team.

A combination of good advantage in the circle and sloppy defending led to England’s third goal after five minutes later. After Richard Alexander had been fouled the ball fell to Reading’s Mackay. With the umpire calling the advantage, Mackay’s shot to the near post came off Ashley Jackon’s stick and landed back into the middle of the circle. With Nick Catlin battling for the ball the Indian defender looked to clear the danger, only to see his pass come off his teammate and into the goal. With 22 year old Jackson the last English player to touch the ball, the HGC midfielder was credited as the scorer, giving him his second of the match.

Reading forward Jonty Clarke, a hero for England against Pakistan on Thursday, received a green card for backchat to the umpire in the 49th minute and soon after, Ben Hawes was allowed to carry the ball through the middle of the park, where he entered the top of the circle under pressure from Dhananjay Mahadik. The Surbiton defender still managed to get off a shot which Adrian D’Souza saved unconvincingly with his left glove.

Roared on during every attack by the crowd which had found its voice again, India pulled one back in the 54th minute through Gurwinder Singh Chandi. A cross from the right was touched on at the front post by Saranjit Singh with the deflection taking the ball to Chandi on the back post where he slotted home beyond the outstretched stick of the diving Fair.

Ashley Jackson then forced D’Souza into a diving save down the middle of the goal as he broke into the top of the circle and two minutes later, from a blistering counter attack, India reduced the deficit to one. Shivrenda Singh’s pass inside from the left channel found Sarwanjit Singh in space on the penalty spot and he in turn found Rajpal on the back post to pull it back to 3-2.

The Indian ‘keeper was again in the thick of it following the goal as he thwarted Jackson again on the floor.

Under pressure from an Indian team on a mission with the support of their countrymen, England’s players demonstrated superb commitment with both Richard Alexander and Ben Hawes launching tackles and clearances with full length dives.

England’s captain Barry Middleton, who had led by example throughout and who was named Man of the Match, found his path along the baseline blocked by D’Souza in the 66th minute.

In the final four minutes of the game India’s exuberance earned them two yellow cards, Sardar Singh and Gurbaj Singh both finishing the match by the technical table.

With less than 60 seconds remaining and still pressing for an equaliser, India squandered an opportunity on the back post with the goal gaping and England survived to counter where Glenn Kirkham put his effort wide.

As the final hooter went England’s inspirational captain Barry Middleton raised his arms in triumph, celebrating leading his country to its first World Cup semi final since 1986 and with it, meeting coach Jason Lee’s pre-tournament target of a top four placing.

Speaking immediately after the game, England captain Barry Middleton said, “it hasn’t really sunk in yet. Reaching the semi finals is unbelievable! That was one of the best games I’ve ever been involved in and I’m just so proud of our players.”

Head Coach Jason Lee was also quick to heap praise on his squad: “It’s a fantastic achievement for this group. They’ve worked so hard to achieve it and fully deserve a place in the semi finals.

“They had to dig deep and it was a gutsy second half display but the team spirit within this group is obvious to see. We’re very pleased for the players.”

The win keeps England on top of Pool B, with a maximum 12 points from their first four matches. With the top two sides in each pool going through to the semi finals, third placed Spain are now unable to catch England, even if they defeat them on Monday morning. That match gets underway at 11:05 GMT.



PHOTOGRAPHY Credit: Grant Treeby/EHB