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BHUBANESWAR: Australia’s Aran Zalewski (L) fights for the ball with Francois Goyet of France during their World Cup quarter-final on Wednesday.—AFP
BHUBANESWAR: Australia’s Aran Zalewski (L) fights for the ball with Francois Goyet of France during their World Cup quarter-final on Wednesday.—AFP

BHUBANESWAR: Two-time defending champions Australia are well on course to create a rare history as they defeated France 3-0 to reach the semi-finals of the hockey World Cup here at the Kalinga Stadium on Wednesday.

World No.1 Australia scored all their goals on penalty corners through Jeremy Hayward (4th minute), Blake Govers (19th) and skipper Aran Zalewski (37th).

Australia continued to dominate the proceedings with repeated forays as the French defence found itself in shambles to keep the Kookaburras at bay.

However, the final scoreline was far from convincing from Australia’s point of view, especially against a side which ranked lowest in the tournament at 20th.

Four minutes into the match, Australia earned their first penalty corner when the ball found Francois Goyet’s foot and Hayward made no mistake in converting the opportunity to hand his side the early lead.

Soon after the start of the second quarter, Jake Whetton earned Australia its second penalty corner and Govers fully obliged by smashing his flick into the back of France’s net to take a 2-0 lead.

Just at the stroke of half time, France earned their first penalty corner which they wasted as Australia went into the halfway break with a comfortable 2-0 lead.

Seven minutes into the third quarter, Australia tripled their lead when Zalewski converted Kookaburras’ third penalty corner with a variation.The Australians kept up the pressure on the France defence and secured another penalty corner in the 41st minute but this time they failed to make use of the chance.

Argentina secured their first penalty corner in the 17th minute and drag-flick expert Peillat scored with a powerful flick to take the lead.While Argentina players were celebrating, England almost equalised with a brisk counterattack only for David Condon to miss a sitter.

Earlier on Wednesday, England stunned Olympic champions Argentina 3-2 to book their place in the semi-finals.

England, who conceded the lead in the 17th minute, staged a superb comeback to make their third successive semi-final appearance in the history of the tournament.

England scored three field goals through Barry Middleton (27th minute), Will Calnan (45th) and Harry Martin (49th), while Gonzalo Peillat (17th, 48th) struck both the goals for the losers.Argentina, the bronze medallists in 2014, had themselves to blame for the defeat as they missed chances galore and got into panic mode after conceding the third goal.

Both Argentina and England were levelled 1-1 till 45th minutes but three goals in the last quarter changed the whole scenario.

Will Calnan made it 2-1 for England before Peillat drew parity in the 48th minute. But a minute later Martin shocked the Los Leones with a field strike to hand England the decisive lead.Earlier, realising that slow pace is not helping them, England raised their tempo and that paid dividends as they earned their first penalty corner in the 11th minute.

Luke Taylor’s effort from the resultant set piece earned them another penalty corner immediately but Argentina defended stoutly to keep their rivals at bay.

Thereafter, the Los Leones surprisingly adopted a defensive approach and that worked in England’s favour.

Mark Gleghorne’s fine run down from the right flank and his subsequent cross was cleared by England defenders which laid in front of an unmarked Middleton, who slotted home with a powerful shot past goalkeeper Juan Vivaldi to level the scores.

In the last quarter, Argentina equalised through Peillat’s penalty corner conversion before Martin struck a minute later with a field strike to hand England the unexpected winner.

England take on the winners of the match between Germany and Belgium in the semi-finals while Australia in their last-four match play the winners of Thursday’s last quarter-final between India and the Netherlands.

Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2018