Day 2 of the FIH open series 2019 in Kuala Lumpur, saw the Welsh men play their second game of the competition. Having defeated world number 10 Canada, the day before, Wales were in confident mood against European counterparts, Belarus. Although Austria had put 5 past the Belarusians on day one, they would still posses a threat and although confident, Wales needed to respect the threat they posed.
In contrast to game one, Wales started poorly. Poor ball handling, impatience and over indulging meant Wales struggled to break through the deep defensive block Belarus had imposed.
The tactics from the Belorussians were clear, sit deep, be compact and attack on the counter. This approach was rewarded in the first quarter, when Wales turned the ball over in midfield, leading to a quick counter that saw Belarus penetrate the Welsh circle. Although Wales got numbers back to defend, a lack of marking at the crucial moment allowed the Belorussians to take the lead.
Wales couldn’t find much rhythm in the first quarter, but did start to gain some ground and eventually were awarded a penalty corner, which set piece specialist Gareth Furlong powered in low to the bottom corner to bring Wales level.
1-1 at the end of the first quarter and that is how it stayed until the half time interval, although Wales had grown into the game, still far from their best, they were beginning to control the game. Missed windows of opportunity to get the ball in the circle the main reason the sides were locked after 30 minutes of play.
Into the second half and Wales knew it was a case of staying patient and sticking to the process. Their patience was tested, even though they had more dominance in the third quarter, they still couldn’t fashion the chance to put them ahead. The match winning moment came in the fourth and final quarter. After a few thwarted penalty corner efforts, Furlong once again fired the ball home. In similar fashion to his first, the man playing his 101st match for Wales, wrapped his stick around the ball to drag it low to the goalkeepers right.
2-1 with time running out, it was now a case of Wales managing the game out. This they did well, with just one major scare. With a minute in the clock, Belarus, who had offered little as an attacking force after the initial quarter, were awarded a penalty corner. Belarus let Wales off the hook. Deciding to deliver wide off the top for a far post deflection, which was missed and the ball went off the back line. An interesting, low percentage play at such a defining moment.
The final hooter sounded, Wales and the elder Furlong were now 2 from 2, as once again Gareth had scooped the match of the match award, his two goals the difference between the sides.
Although far from satisfied with the performance, head coach Zak Jones praised his team.
‘It’s never easy winning international matches, every team here is capable or else they wouldn’t be here. The boys did well to grind a result out and that’s what you have to do at times in international competition’.
With Canada beating Austria earlier in the day, Wales need a point to top the group and confirm a spot in Friday’s semi finals. Anything less than that and they will have a crossover match to navigate, in order to progress to a semi final berth.
Wales have a day off before they play European rivals Austria, in their final pool match on Monday. Head to fih.live to support the boys.