After a successful run in the pool stages, Wales had the opportunity to secure a place in the Euro Hockey Championship II Final and also promotion into Championship I. First, they had to beat Russia who had their own strong run in Pool B.
The first quarter saw a testing of the water by both nations, with most of possession being in the middle third of the pitch and no clear shots on target. The keepers were forced to stay alert, but were not truly tested during the first fifteen minutes of the game. The second quarter, however, saw a change in speed for both Russia and Wales, who were both eager to break the deadlock they found themselves in. More shots on target were seen from both sides, but the best opportunity for Wales came from their second short corner of the game and a drag flick routine from Oliver Wheeler. However, Wales’ celebrations were short lived, as Russia’s Ivan Ezhelev answered back during a short corner with a drag flick of his own. The half-time score was left at 1-1 as both teams managed to hold each other off with impressive defensive skills and patience.
With the second half yet still to play, Wales were not ready to quit. Russia came out strong, but Wales held firm and their defensive skills held firm against a barrage of attacks from Russia who equally kept possession well. It was not made easy for Wales, but the U18 boys stood fast and held their ground against the numerous strikes that Russia applied on goal. Goalkeeper Rhys Payne showed cool confidence as he was forced to make saves, keeping Wales in with a chance of earning that second goal. Unfortunately, in the fourth quarter it was Russia who found the second goal, winning a penalty flick after a shot on goal during a short corner struck a Welsh body. Russia’s captain Denis Starienko put it past Payne, giving Russia the one goal advantage. Despite Wales’ best efforts and short corners won, Alexey Sobolevskiy secured a third goal for Russia and a fourth came from Ivan Ezhelev through a second short corner drag flick.
Wales fought hard until the final whistle was blown, continuously searching for a way back into the game and always pressing the Russian defence for any opportunity they could get. They will next face Austria in a 3rd/4th Place Play-Off on the 28th July.
Head Coach Lee Ible told us:
I’m gutted for the boys but we have to get ourselves together and refocus on the match today, as there is a bronze to be won. If at the start of the week you’d given us a chance at a bronze we wouldn’t have been too disappointed with that. So we must recognise how well we have done this week and yesterday’s result takes nothing away from how superb the boys have been all tournament
Wales will go into their game today against Austria looking to secure a bronze.