If luck favours the brave, France clearly is the bravest team in the fray here. The surprise quarterfinalist rode on luck and audacity to reach its maiden semifinal in the hockey junior World Cup, defeating European champion and title favourite Belgium 5-4 at the national Stadium here on Thursday.
In the process, it avenged its defeat in the European Cup semifinals last year.
It was a sign of things to come when Belgium wasted a penalty corner in the second minute of the game while France went ahead, converting its own in the 15th minute when Victor Charlet tapped in a rebound.
The entire match followed a similar script. “Sometimes there are no reasons to lose except that maybe the other team took its chances and we didn’t,” admitted Belgian coach Philippe Goldberg. He couldn’t have summed it up better.
Belgium was the better side in every respect — skills, passing, ball possession, planning and creating chances. When penalty corners didn’t work, it reworked its attack and got field goals. Belgium got everything right except the result.
France, on the other hand, was disorganised and desperate, throwing everything it had at the game. The French didn’t shy away from getting physical, indulging in some dangerous body play and received repeated warnings.
Despite it all, Belgium went ahead twice in the second half, going up 4-2 in the 47th minute. A soft goal conceded off a French counter-attack, in the very next minute, was the turning point. That goal energised France and it started attacking in waves, unnerving the Belgians.
Two penalty corners in the last 10 minutes were all it took France to cause the biggest upset of the tournament so far.
“I am very happy. All I kept telling the boys was to believe in themselves. Mental strength was very important and I am proud of this team,” French coach Gael Foulard said.
Next up will be Malaysia, who downed a fighting Korea 2-1.
Earlier, an early morning start was no hindrance for the Netherlands to ensure an easy passage to the last-four stage with a 3-2 win over New Zealand. The Dutch dominated completely and toyed with the New Zealand defence.
Thiery Brinkman’s double strike and Tom Hiebendaal completed the tally for the Netherlands.
Quarterfinals: France 5 (Jean-Laurent Kieffer 2, Victor Charlet, Hugo Genestet, Theophile Ponthieu) bt Belgium 4 (Maxime Plennevaux 2, Gaetan Perez, Dorian Thiery); the Netherlands 3 (Thierry Brinkman 2, Tom Hiebendaal) bt New Zealand 2 (Nicholas Woods, Benedict van Woerkom).
Keywords: Junior World Cup hockey tournament