The race to be crowned champions of the Odisha Men's Hockey World League Final Bhubaneswar 2017 got underway last evening, with Germany finishing the day at the top of Pool B after two hugely entertaining matches at the Kalinga Stadium.
Germany's Die Honamas were in action against England- a team that had beaten Germany to the bronze medal at the Rabo Euro Hockey Championships in Amsterdam earlier this year - in the opening match of the day, and left the field rightfully pleased with their afternoon's work.
Although England were the better side in the opening quarter, Germany were excellent in the second period and went ahead when Hockey Stars Male Player of the Year 2017 nominee Mats Grambusch coolly fired into an open goal to finish off a rapid counter-attack.
Germany's advantage was doubled ahead of half time when the ever-dangerous Christopher Ruhr was given a clear sight of goal and made no mistake with his strike, firing into the bottom left corner beyond the outstretched right leg of Hockey Stars Male Goalkeeper of the Year nominee George Pinner.
Attacking star Florian Fuchs had a hand in both of Germany's goals, putting to bed any doubts that he would need time to rediscover his international form after taking more than a year away from the game.
Germany could easily have added to their tally in the third and fourth quarters, with Marco Miltkau and Rühr both going close before the match finished with the score at 2-0.
The victory was a perfect way for Germany team captain Martin Haner to mark his 200th international appearance, while match umpire Eduardo Lizana was awarded his Golden Whistle in recognition of umpiring 100 international matches, a marker he reached in Glasgow, Scotland earlier this year.
"I'm absolutely delighted about the win", said goal-scorer Mats Grambusch, who was named Man of the Match presented by Odisha New Opportunities, after the contest. "I think we had a poor first quarter but got better and better. The other three quarters we played good hockey and defended well, so I think we deserved the win. We are looking forward to our next match (against Australia) as we haven't played them for a while, so we are going to focus on recovery and hopefully we can get another win tomorrow."
The day's other match saw host nation India take on reigning world and Hockey World League champions Australia in front of a huge crowd that made an incredible noise throughout the contest. Taking place after a dazzling opening ceremony featuring dancers, laser lights and fireworks, the battle between the respective continental champions of Asia and Oceania proved to be every bit as entertaining as the pre-match show.
India dominated proceedings throughout the first quarter and deservedly took the lead early in the second period when Mandeep Singh's clever backhand strike from the left of the circle found the target. The Kookaburras replied almost immediately thanks to a trademark penalty corner drag-flick from Jeremy Hayward, giving the Aussies the boost that they needed to edge the latter stages of the second quarter.
The scores remained locked at 1-1 throughout the third quarter, with both sides having good opportunities which they failed to convert. The home favourites came closest to sealing all three points in the fourth quarter when a deflected cross rattled the frame of the Australian goal. It proved to be the last significant moment of the match, with both sides taking away a share of the spoils on the occasion of Indian team captain Manpreet Singh's 200th senior international appearance.
Speaking after the contest, Australia's Matt Dawson - who was named Man of the Match, presented by Odisha New Opportunities - said,"It is always going to be tough playing India in India. I love the Bhubaneswar people as a player for (Hockey India League side) Kalinga Lancers, but matches like these are always tough. Our preparation has been pretty good and we are raring to go against top sides in the world."
The competition will continue on Saturday,with four potentially thrilling matches taking place. The day begins with two encounters in Pool A, with Olympic champions Argentina and Olympic silver medallists Belgium meeting before European champions the Netherlands take on Spain .
Germany will also take on Australia in their second Pool B clash, with India going head-to-head with England at in front of a stadium that will surely be packed to the rafters.
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