The under 12s at least had a decent time to warm up for the customary first tough match after the early morning start, and they were suitably fired up for the 1st game vs Polo A.
The boys started strongly and played with great passion and intensity, giving the talented Polo players little space to dribble and pass the ball. A quick break and pass up the pitch lead to Caspar B scoring the first goal, the only team to get ahead of Polo A under 12s in the whole tournament. It was a closely fought match and Polo came back to equalise, only for us to pull ahead again from Caspar in a goal mouth melee, which was quickly nullified by another Polo goal sourced from their incredibly skillful left half, 2-2.
Oscar D in goal really dominated his D, clearing the ball strongly at each opportunity and at one point completely smothering that left half on the edge of the D and cracking the ball away with his stick. Scott W showed his fantastic reading of the game by seeing a shot on goal and scrabbling back to somehow clear off the line. However, the pressure continued to pile up and Polo got a short corner right at the death, with the ref's whistle blowing for the last play of the game. A very well crafted routine saw a short ball to the left side and the Polo attacker took a great reverse stick hit, possibly received from inside the D, that went through the unopposed corner post (they only play 4 in total in the goal in under 12s in Spain). The boys were absolutely gutted and a number sunk to the pitch in distress, but they had played the best game of hockey that their coaches had seen them perform and should be seriously proud of their performance. We knew now that our progression was more likely to be for the bronze medal game, unless someone else beat Polo, but that our goal difference could still make the difference. A good target to aim for...
Given the great spirit in the squad, it wasn't as hard as it could have been to get the boys motivated for the next match, which was against a Honigvogel team that played narrow but had two large and skillful centre backs. We found it tough to play the ball around the latter and a great goalie kept out many of our attacks. We played too much down the middle and struggled to break out wide, but when we did it was dangerous and we then created lots of space. Ben A scored the 1st through a lovely short corner strike and made the game safe with a beautiful quick strike from the top of the D and a tough enough game ended 2-0. The boys learnt from this match the need to play the ball back to then get it out wide, but played strong after the disappointment of the 1st match.
The next 2 matches on Saturday saw them really focus on their goal difference, by staying true to their game structure and continuing to play so well for each other throughout all facets of the game. The game against Computlense ended 9-0 but it took almost 10 minutes to break the opposition down, but the boys stayed patient and kept on passing wide and running the by-lines, even after the goals started pouring in (5 for Caspar, 2 for Jack T, 1 each for Ben and Henry B). Scott and James M continued to mark tightly and prevented a few breaks as we pushed high, showing great discipline. The boys were getting into a rich vein of form and dispatched Campo B by 6 goals to 0 (Caspar 5 and Josh T 1), with their team spirit displaying strongly.
The last game of Saturday started at the Mediterranean time of 8.30pm and was a crucial game against Sevenoaks, who were unbeaten until now. We knew we had to beat them to have a chance of the bronze medal and that it would be a tough game, given their strong and skillful players. A high pass from Sam R up to Caspar, who rounded the goalie with his characteristic big ball & body move, settled the nerves. Strong running and tackling from Sam R, Jack T and Henry B kept their good midfield tied down and another short corner strike from Ben A gave us some breathing space. Caspar was then beautifully put through from Ben A and he dispatched the goal with a reverse strike. Although Sevenoaks got a goal back to finish it 3-1, we had played a controlled game of good style and fast pace, which proved too much for our opposition. As a result, many happy but exhausted boys went to bed late on Saturday, knowing the final game on Sunday would decide whether a podium awaited or not.
Having watched a disciplined performance from the Girls under 12 that resulted in a great silver medal, the boys had high hopes & expectations. Against a fast and attacking Tennis team, this did however result in some nerves and the first touches, which had been so composed throughout the festival, sometimes went astray. We played a little too centrally and tried to force our passes, but another great goal playing high up the pitch from Caspar calmed the nerves for a while. Tennis scored on the break to level the game and tension was rising, but having played with style for most of the festival, the boys decided to win ugly. The tackling was sometimes a bit too fierce, but the commitment was undoubted. Henry B tapped in the winning goal from a few inches, finishing off a determined move down the wings that Jack T then took into the D and calmly and accurately smacked towards goal - huge relief was felt by all. A few more goals could have gone in but their goalie was great and got down low quickly: the boys will learn that nerves in the big games can be debilitating, as well as energising!
So the boys won a thoroughly deserved bronze medal with the best goal difference of any team in their age group. The coaches and parents were so impressed with the cohesion of the squad, both on and off the pitch; with the speed of their attacking play and their commitment in defence; with the stick skills and speed of thought and finally with the smiles and good humour throughout the weekend.
Thank you all, for a wonderful weekend of hockey!