The Vantage Black Sticks came up against a confident France side in their opening match of the Odisha Men’s Hockey World Cup. The last time these two sides met was at the 2017 World League Semi Final when the result was a 3-3 draw. The Vantage Black Sticks were looking to begin their campaign strongly and gain some momentum heading into a tough second match against Argentina.
The Vantage Black Sticks lined up on a warm evening in Bhubaneswar and started the game with some great focus passing the ball around the back well and looking to put themselves into a good position in the match. The Vantage Black Sticks had some early chances which saw a few crash balls into the circle nearly go past the French goalkeeper. Despite opportunities for both sides the 1st Quarter remained scoreless and set up what was looking likely to be a tight match.
The Vantage Black Sticks started the second quarter with a lot more urgency. In the second minute Kane Russell picked up a ball wide and then drove along the baseline with some great speed and finished it off by shooting a reverse shot past the French goalkeeper to put the Vantage Black Sticks in the lead 1-0. The remainder of the second quarter saw both teams have several opportunities including some close misses off direct shots to the Vantage Black Sticks however there was no change to the score and the teams went into the sheds at halftime with the Vantage Black Sticks in the lead 1-0.
The arm wrestle continued in the third quarter as both sides struggled to construct many opportunities. France eventually earnt the first penalty corner of the match. Vantage Black Sticks goalkeeper Richard Joyce came up big and saved the drag flick to keep the score at 1-0. At the end of Quarter 3 the score remained the same as neither side was able to apply much pressure. It set up a tense and exciting 4th Quarter where the Vantage Black Sticks were looking to protect their 1 goal lead.
France started the 4th Quarter with some great speed and accuracy and created some fantastic opportunities which saw them test Richard Joyce out with several shots. The Vantage Black Sticks defense was up to the challenge and kept the guys from New Zealand in the lead 1-0. The Vantage Black Sticks then blew the game open when Nic Woods won a ball in the middle of the field and counter attacked by throwing an overhead on the move to Stephen Jenness who received and powered the ball past the French goalie. The goal gave the Vantage Black Sticks a needed buffer heading in to the final 3 minutes of the game. France got one back when Victor Charlet flicked a penalty corner high into the goal which set up a nerve-racking final 2 minutes in the game.
The Vantage Black Sticks held firm to secure a much needed 3 points and start their Odisha Men’s Hockey World Cup Campaign in a great fashion.
The Vantage Black Sticks are next in action on Tuesday morning when they take on reigning Olympic Champions Argentina in a battle between the last two undefeated teams in Pool A.
Player of the Match Stephen Jenness said “We started really well. France kept putting us under a lot of pressure but we held firm and made the most of our opportunities”.
Vantage Black Sticks Coach Darren Smith commented on the win “We started the game very well creating 3 or 4 good opportunities and had intent to our play - Although we got a bit conservative in the 2nd half. In the end it is great to get the 3 points which was built on a solid defensive effort. We now look forward to the Olympic Champions Argentina where we expect an exciting game”.
Vantage Black Sticks 2 (Kane Russell 16”, Stephen Jenness 56’)
France 1 (Victor Charlet 59’)
The FIH Pro League is Coming
The FIH Pro League - Presented by Sentinel Homes will see home and away games btween the world's top 9 Men's and Women's hockey nations played between January and June, starting in 2019, culminating in a winner takes all Grand Final