One of the most improved men hockey sides in the world – France – appeared ‘very much unlike France’ as they played far below their ‘best’ and were handed a surprising 1-2 defeat by lower-ranked Ireland in the inagural FIH Men’s Nations Cup at Potchefstroom, South Africa. There was far too many unforced errors on view from the 11th ranked French outfit as they looked rusty having not played together as a team for a few months. The Frederic Soyez-coached side did everything possible to control the game in the opening quarter but Ireland nullifed all their plans and struck off a counter-attack. John McKee produced a nifty ‘steal’ from Charles Masson and relayed a quick through ball to Jeremy Duncan, who outfoxed France goalkeeper Arthur Thieffry to draw first blood in the second quarter.
Stung by the 22nd minute goal, France regrouped and restored parity four minutes later when Victor Charlet whipped home a short corner – his 15th goal in 2022 – and it looked like the equaliser joy would be short-lived when Benjamin Walker earned a stroke after being fouled in the France ‘D’ – Shane O Donoghue walked up to take the stroke but France goalkeeper Arthur Thieffry produced a brave save to keep his side in the match with honours shared at half-time.
A tight third quarter did not yield any goals for most part actually before Shane O Donoghue redeemed himself for his earlier penalty stroke miss, sounding the boards off a penalty corner to put the ‘comeback onus’ on France going into the final quarter. France tried to summon desperate measures but lack of coordination and a plethora ball distribution howlers made it easy for the Green Machine to hold on to the slender lead. The Les Bleus took out their goalkeeper Arthur Thieffry in favour of an extra outfield player in the closing stages of the match but could do very little to make the most of it as they struggled to control the ball.
In a tough Pool A featuring hosts South Africa and Pakistan, France could find the going tough in the subsequent matches unless of course, they rediscover their peak form.