The fight for quarterfinal places heated up on day four of the FIH Indoor Hockey World Cup in Pretoria, South Africa with one more day of pool matches remaining.
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There was no more intense demonstration of that than the men’s showdown between 2018 bronze medallists Iran and hosts South Africa.
The home team thrilled a passionate Pretoria crowd by taking the lead with four minutes remaining but a stroke awarded in the dying seconds allowed the Iranians to level the scores at 4-4, meaning there’s all to play for in the final pool matches.
“It’s a bit emotional not getting a result against a top-four nation where I feel like they got lucky,” said Mustapha Cassiem, who scored three of South Africa’s goals.
“We didn’t defend well enough and if you let a team like this slide, they’ll use the opportunities against you.”
Day four also featured two top-of-the-table clashes between Austria and the Netherlands, with the Austrian men and Dutch women emerging victorious.
Making his scoring debut in the tournament was Austria’s Michael Körper, who flew in later than the rest of the team after helping his Harvestehuder THC side land the German Indoor Championship title over the weekend. Körper made up for lost time, scoring all four of Austria’s goals in their 4-1 victory over the Netherlands.
“I’m definitely happy. Yesterday [against Belgium] I had many chances for four or five goals and I didn’t score, but it was my first game on this pitch. I arrived the day before,” said Körper.
“So I got used to the pitch now and connected to the guys again and I think that showed today with four goals.”
The tables were turned in the corresponding women’s fixture, where it was the Dutch who dominated proceedings to win 5-1, Donja Zwinkels completing yet another hattrick for 12 goals in the tournament so far.
At the other end of the court, the Netherlands have conceded only two goals in Pretoria.
Goalkeeper Lexie Heerbaart commented: “Our team defence is really on point and I really think we’re doing it together as a team. Our press is going great and I am happy to help the team wherever needed and be in the position to save some goals,” she said.
Meanwhile, there was joy for Kazakhstan’s men’s side as they claimed their first win of the tournament. Having notched up a four-goal lead against New Zealand, the Kazakhs managed to hit the left and then the right post within a matter of seconds in their bid for a fifth goal. It was eventually Yerkebulan Dyussebekov who slotted it in off a penalty corner to seal the 5-0 win.
“It is a good feeling because we won today. It was a strong match for Kazakhstan and a good experience in the World Cup,” said captain Daulet Urmanov.
As for the prospect of taking on world champions Austria in their final pool match on Thursday, Urmanov added: “They are a strong team, but we have a good spirit so it’s not a problem.”
New Zealand’s captain and goalkeeper Dean Armstrong was far from despairing after another loss for his team, who have now conceded 26 goals in the tournament so far.
“It’s fantastic experience for us and that’s what we need,” he said. “We’ll pick up a lot of learnings from this… we really want to make sure that we’re taking those home and building so we’ve got something better when we come along next time.”
At the age of 42, Armstrong has retirement plans just yet and is looking towards representing his country at the next World Cup.
“I’m loving it here, it’s really exciting, some great hockey and the opportunity to play against the world’s best players is so addictive so I hope so.”
Earlier in the day, the Belgian men’s side secured their place in the quarterfinals with a 4-1 victory over Namibia. In the other men’s pool, a 7-4 victory for the United States over Argentina saw the Americans finishing the day on top, also ensuring their passage through.
Aki Kaeppeler scored three of those goals, his contribution crucial against the determined Argentinians, who have made an impressive impact on their tournament debut.
“I think we were more clinical than in the other games so far and also we defended really hard as a team. We gave it everything and I think that’s the key to our success at the moment,” said Kaeppeler.
As for the hattrick, he added: “I’m just happy that we got the goals and we got the win. I think we scored in important moments so that was good to get the momentum back on our side.”
The Czech Republic women booked their place in the final eight with a 4-2 victory over Ukraine, while the South African women claimed their first victory of the tournament with a 1-0 win over Australia.