After a hard fought semi-final defeat to Russia which meant it would be a bronze medal game rather than gold, Wales faced Austria who were dealing with their own dismay after a tight loss to Scotland. Both teams had to pick themselves back up and set themselves a positive mental attitude ahead of what was bound to be a difficult final game.
Tension was in the air as both teams started the game with a lack of attacking play, waiting for their opportunities with play mainly taking place outside either circle. Eventually circle entries were made, and both teams began testing each other defensively. Wales found themselves 1-0 down after a drag flick penalty corner routine was put in by Austria’s #11 Nikolas Wellan. Despite Wales’ best efforts and their own multiple penalty corner attempts, Austria went on to score another two penalty corner drag flicks, one again to Wellan and the other to #27 Benjamin Kölbl. Wales did manage to hit the back of the Austrian net, but it was unfortunately disallowed due to it being a high first strike during a penalty corner. The fourth quarter became more fractious, with multiple cards being handed out – two of which being yellow – but unfortunately no answering goals by Wales, and the final whistle blew to make it 3-0 to Austria.
Wales came fourth in the tournament, out of eight teams, and played brilliantly throughout the week. They had secured two wins, one draw, and two losses during the tournament, the one loss being to the eventually winners Russia and were the only other team to steal points from second finalists Scotland. With Wales playing the later games of the tournament, there was always a fantastic crowd around to cheer the young players on, and witness what the future could look like for the players should they continue on to become senior players.
The Euro Hockey Championship II was definitely full of learning curves for both players and coaching staff, but there are so many positives to be taken away from this experience as the team reflect back on what they have managed to achieve. The last time the U18 participated in the Euro Hockey Championships they finished in seventh place and have made an incredible improvement over the last two years to move up three spots.
Disappointment will be fresh in the minds of spectators, players, and coaching staff, however, there is plenty to be taken away from the past week of hockey. Now is time for relaxation and reflection, before work will begin for the next tournament and hopefully this fourth place will next time be a top two with a promotion to Championship I.
Head Coach Lee Ible said:
The Euros have been a fantastic learning experience for the whole group, players and staff. Some of the performances were fantastic and the character and grit shown to come back against the Scots and the Czechs was so pleasing to see. It’s obviously slightly disappointing to lose in the semis and then miss out on the bronze, but we will look back at this week as a huge success. The boys have gained so many valuable lessons, technically, tactically and emotionally, that I am sure can only be beneficial to their on going hockey development.
I’m already looking forward to the next two years and the next Euros. The group will be vastly different when we next compete in the tournament, but the experience gained this week will be shared amongst the wider squad and the younger players coming through. One of the highlights of the week was seeing so many of the NAG boys squad in attendance supporting their peers