SPAIN 2 (1) - 0 (0) ENGLAND
Pau Quemada 34 (PC)
Eduard Tubau 64 (F)

In their final Pool B fixture and with a World Cup semi final berth already secured, England’s men went down 2-0 to Spain on Monday afternoon after late goals in either half from Pau Quemada and Eduard Tubau gave the 2008 Olympic silver medallists third win of the tournament.

Going into the match England had enjoyed their best ever start to a World Cup but were always likely to be challenged by the side ranked third in the world, three places higher than Jason Lee’s squad. For Spain, the match was about putting pressure on free-scoring Australia should the Kookaburras slip up against Pakistan in the day’s second match.

The last meeting between the two sides at a world level competition came at the Champions Trophy in Melbourne in December 2009 when Spain ran out 5-2 winners to claim fifth place while they also met in January in Cadiz in a two match test series, which finished 1-0 to Spain after a 2-2 draw in the opening match.

With Spain unlikely to leapfrog Australia and England safely through to the semi finals the opening ten minutes were rather uneventful before Spain had the game’s first sight at goal. Driving along the baseline, Pau Quemada pulled the ball back for Roc Oliva but the Spaniard’s shot across goal evaded both the goal and his waiting teammate Pol Amat on the back post.

England’s first opportunity came in the 12th minute after good work from Bowdon’s Alastair Brogdon down the right. Cutting inside along the baseline the 22 year old found the foot of a Spanish defender in front of the near post resulting in a penalty corner. Unfortunately for England, the set piece broke down between Adam Dixon and Ashley Jackson at the top of the circle and the opportunity to test Francisco Cortes was gone.

Just over midway through the half Spain passed up two good chances to open the scoring.First, after Ed Tubau had drawn goalkeeper James Fair out he squared the ball to the onrushing Quemada but with the goal at his mercy he could only direct the ball into the side netting. A minute later Cannock’s Fair pulled off a good save with his left glove from Amat after the Spanish captain had beaten Richard Smith at the top of the circle.

Not long after, James Tindall’s mazy run through two defenders inside the 23 metre area created the space for a shot but he mishit his effort and it bobbled wide of Cortes’ left post. In the 24th minute England were awarded their second penalty corner of the match, which Ashley Jackson flicked wide after an unsuccessful team referral to the video umpire by Spain.

After a relatively open spell, England were beginning to enjoy the better possession and Richard Alexander had the next chance on goal. After combining well with World Young Player of the Year Ashley Jackson on the right of the Spanish circle, Alexander swivelled and fired a powerful shot towards the back post. Unfortunately for England, the Surbiton man’s shot went under the body his captain Barry Middleton at the back post and off the
back line.

With just a minute of the half remaining England fell behind to Pau Quemada’s penalty corner effort. A mix up in the English defence with Jackson and Dixon colliding led to James Fair having to make a save and as his clearance rose up into the body of the nearest defender umpire Satinder Kumar awarded Spain their first penalty corner. From the top of the circle Quemada flicked low to Fair’s left, hitting the backboard to give Spain a 1-0 lead at the break.
Within five minutes of the restart Pol Amat was demonstrating the skills that made him the 2008 World Player of the Year. Driving almost effortlessly through the left channel he passed three English players before being brought to a halt by Beeston’s Ali Wilson inside the circle.

On 43 minutes and at the other end, Reading’s Jonty Clarke did well to pick up a loose ball inside the Spanish circle. Despite being forced right he fired off a shot to the back post which, although it ended up in the goal, did not count having come off the body of the sliding Richard Alexander.

Spain had an opportunity to double their lead after 48 minutes when Eduard Tubau latched onto a long aerial pass downfield but his lob over the advancing James Fair also beat the cross bar by some margin and it remained 1-0.

Knowing that a draw would ensure England top Pool B, Ashley Jackson and Nick Catlin began to lead England’s press for an equaliser from midfield. With 20 minutes remaining England were enjoying significant possession in their opponents’ half of the field and Reading’s Iain Mackay came close to an equaliser soon after. Ben Hawes’ ball through the top of the circle deflected off the stick of a defender and into the path of Mackay on the inside left. Reacting quickly he got off a sweep shot that ended the wrong side of the post, hitting the near side netting and Spain breathed a sigh of relief.

In the 57th minute James Tindall’s run set up Rob Moore inside the circle but with his back to goal the Surbiton man’s control of the bobbling ball let him down. Entering the final ten minutes Spain sank deeper, content to hit England on the counter, and that was how they scored their second goal. Ed Tubau broke through the middle of the field, holding off a challenge from Glenn Kirkham before slipping the ball left to Quemada. Quemada returned the ball to the onrushing Tubau immediately, eliminating James Fair in the England goal, and Tubau was left with the simple task of running the ball
home to give Spain a two goal lead.

The second goal effectively ended hopes of an England comeback and with the exception of a Spanish penalty corner, which was well charged down by the English runners, the match drew uneventfully to its conclusion.

After the match, team manager Andy Halliday admitted that England had not been at their best: “To be honest, we were disappointing today; we lacked energy. To compete with Spain, who are the Olympic silver medalists, you have to be at the top of your game and we weren’t.”

Looking ahead to Thursday’s semi final, the opponents for which will be known on Tuesday afternoon, Halliday believes on their day England should not be fearful of anyone:

“We’re capable of beating any of the four sides who could qualify from Pool A but we’ll just have to wait and see. Two days rest between now and the semi final will do us good.”

The semi finals take place on Thursday at 12:35 and 14:35 GMT. England will play one of the Netherlands, Germany, Korea or New Zealand depending on the results from Pool A on Tuesday.

Whatever the result on Thursday, England will also be in action on Saturday in either the bronze or gold medal match at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium in Delhi.

PHOTOGRAPH - Grant Treeby