England kicked off their FIH Hockey World Cup in style when they cruised to a 5-0 victory over Wales, and swiftly followed this up with an exhilarating 0-0 draw with India, but what have we learned from the opening two games.
Paul Revington’s side currently top a group that many thought would be a difficult challenge, containing home favourites India, noisy neighbours Wales and a Spain side ranked eighth in the world.
But it is Revington’s trust in England’s youth that is really shining through.
The average age for the squad is 25 and it displays a nice mixture of exciting young talent and experienced old heads, which combined beautifully in England’s opener against Wales.
Without a doubt England were favourites heading into the game but a historic Welsh side who, under the guidance of Reading’s Danny Newcombe qualified for their first ever world cup for 128 years, posed a significant banana skin.
With 35 seconds on the clock youth and experience combined when 32-year-old Sam Ward drove along the baseline and squared the ball to an on-rushing Nick Park, 23, who finished into the roof of the net.
This was Park’s first international goal and he, along with midfielder Stu Rushmere and Captain Zach Wallace, continue to show that the players coming through England’s player pathway truly belong at elite international level.
A brace from Wimbledon’s Liam Ansell and a smart finish from Holcombe’s Phil Roper put the game out of Wales’ reach and by keeping a clean sheet ensured Ollie Payne went home happy.
A commanding win, and one that seems to have set the tone for England going into the rest of the tournament.
Revington has clearly worked hard on his team’s defensively capabilities and, despite Wales not threatening a huge amount throughout the game, his side followed up this assured display with a clean sheet against India.
Much has been said of India’s fluid and flamboyant attacking contingent, led by Akashdeep Singh and Hardik Singh, but England’s defenders looked calm and collected.
Although, perhaps what is ensuring this team’s calmness at the back is the impenetrable wall that is keeper Ollie Payne.
After taking over from stalwart George Pinner, Payne now offers something different in England’s goal.
He represents a move away from the traditional idea of an England goalkeeper as a physically imposing but slightly immobile presence.
His incredible performance against India kept out a side that is the FIH Pro League’s top scorers on 15 goals and contains one of, if not the, most potent drag flicking threat in Harmanpreet Singh.
What is even more impressive is that England have the incredibly talented James Mazarelo on the bench as well, who’s heroics in Great Britain’s shoot-out win against the Dutch in the Pro League demonstrated his quality in full.
A strong spine is key to any side that wants to go deep in a World Cup and England certainly have that, but in order to challenge for silverware they must remain consistent.
With this in mind England look in good stead to secure automatic qualification with a win over Spain on Thursday, and looking across the tournament they will be encouraged to see Australia, Belgium and Germany all drop points in their group stages.
Spain are a tough entity but with Revington’s passion and drive seemingly injecting a new lease of life into this squad the sky really is the limit for England.
Featured image credit: Pixabay