China Hold Mighty England In Rabobank World Cup Hockey
After over a decade at the helm of the men’s team and a year in charge of the women’s side, Jason Lee was forced to concede that Tuesday was “as bad as I’ve known things to be” following his side’s lacklustre 3-0 defeat to lower-ranked China at the Kyocera Stadium.
Their second successive group-stage defeat means that England women’s World Cup hopes of reaching the semi-finals hang by a thread. China made England pay when they scored from three of the four shots they mustered all game, a lovely double from both sides of the stick by Yang Peng and a well-taken penalty corner.
England, meanwhile, have now produced three times as many forays into the opposition circle in their two games, but only one goal to show for it. The tide simply has to turn. And while England had 25 circle penetrations, China’s three shots on target resulted in three goals.
Lee did offer a brutally honest assessment of his side afterwards, but his tone hinted more of a rallying call ahead of a must-win game against South Africa on Friday.
“There’s nothing more motivating than staring over a precipice,” said Lee. “When you’re on the edge of a cliff there’s only one way to go.
“It’s pretty bad now. I’ve been in the game a long time but this is as bad as I’ve known things to be. If we don’t start to win games and manage to progress it will be even worse. That’s quite a motivating factor.”
With captain Kate Richardson-Walsh promising England would be at “full-tilt” – she later admitted to being “devastated” by defeat – they indeed began well. This was largely thanks to front-foot player and tireless runner Susannah Townsend in the starting line-up.
Ashleigh Ball won an early penalty corner before Richardson-Walsh saw her low shot cleared off the line. Lily Owsley, fast becoming one of England’s future stars, then came closest to scoring when her reactionary shot from a goalmouth scramble came off the post.
In all, England had nine shots to China’s one in the opening 35 minutes and an early goal would surely have changed the complexion. But Peng made them pay seven minutes after the restart when she turned and fired an unstoppable hit past Maddie Hinch into the top-right corner.
England had chances to level with a succession of penalty corners – Richardson-Walsh had six overall – but they could not convert. As the game wore on, they were also guilty of giving the ball away when retaining pressure was key.
England’s commitment to the cause cannot be doubted though. Ball and Georgie Twigg were both hit on the hand after racing out from goal to block China’s penalty corner hits.
For the second game running, Lee took off Hinch with over five minutes left and England’s hapless afternoon was complete when Peng doubled her tally with a low reverse stick strike.
The only saving grace now for England is that their group – without the peerless Dutch – is turning into an open scrap for the top two places and likely to go down to the last round of games next Tuesday.
The US’s win over England on the opening day has put them in a great position, while England must certainly beat South Africa, Argentina and Germany to stand any chance of qualifying through to the last four.
Alex Danson, England’s star forward, has yet to stamp her authority on this World Cup and her 150th cap presentation was the only bright spark on an otherwise hapless afternoon. According to the statistics, she has yet to garner a shot on goal in England’s two matches.
With the second batch of group games played, there is a rest day on Wednesday, before England’s men return to play Malaysia a day later.