France may emerge as the dark horse in this edition of the junior World Cup hockey tournament. Relying on its fine coordination, France, which had finished 10th in its last junior worlds appearance in 2001, pipped Argentina 3-2 in a Pool B match at the National Stadium here on Sunday to earn its first ever quarterfinals berth in the history of the event.

The French Hockey Federation’s vision for four years reflected in the team’s performance. Backed by meticulous planning and strong preparation, France, which beat Spain in its first match, toppled the second traditional team in a row to gather six points.

In a match dominated by exchange of attacks, France benefited because of its better tactical game and sound defence.

Even though the Europeans had better control over the ball, Argentina drew first blood through a fine counterattack completed by an unmarked Estanislao Perez Pesado in the 20th minute.

Pieter van Straaten deflected in a high ball to equalize five minutes later. The Frenchmen made quick amends following a fumble and Theophile Ponthieu converted a penalty corner to make it 2-1.

A carelessly raised French stick inside its own circle cost the team a penalty stroke and Argentine captain Gonzalo Peillat made no mistake in drawing parity at the stroke of half-time.

Displaying excellent presence of mind, Jean-Laurent Kieffer nicely received Niels van Straaten’s cross, beat a rival defender and goalkeeper with body dodge and reverse-scooped it into the net in the 48th minute.

Edgar shines

French custodian Edgar Reynaud, who had minimized the damage in the first half with some solo efforts, continued to shine under the bar. He preserved his side’s narrow lead as the opposition strikers frantically searched for the third goal. Argentina, which substituted its goalkeeper with a field player in the closing minutes, accepted defeat as the ecstatic French players celebrated their success.

“They were fast and skilful. But our goalkeeper was very good,” said France’s coach Gael Foulard.

Despite missing its spark, Australia beat Spain 2-0 in another Pool B match to qualify for the quarterfinals with two wins.

Malaysia posted its second victory to collect six points and qualified.

The results:

Pool B: Australia 2 (Daniel Beale 38, Dylan Wotherspoon 63) bt Spain 0.

France 3 (Pieter van Straaten 25, Theophile Ponthieu 31, Jean-Laurent Kieffer 48) bt Argentina 2 (Estanislao Perez Pesado 20, Gonzalo Peillat 35).

Pool D: Malaysia 2 (own goal 27, Firhan Ashari 43) bt South Africa 1 (Matthew Brown 13); New Zealand 2 (Kane Russell 39, Matt Rees-Gibbs 68) drew withEngland 2 (James Gall 14, Luke Taylor 27)

Pool D: New Zealand 2 (Kane Russell 39, Matt Rees-Gibbs 68) drew withEngland 2 (James Gall 14, Luke Taylor 27).

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