In the second crossover match between England and Korea, the host nation came out to play with an intensity and fluidity that had been missing for some of their earlier matches. Suddenly the passes were connecting, the runs were better-timed and chances were being created.
Korea were missing Park Mi Hyun, which is a big loss to the world number 9 as the striker is so often the driving force for many of the Asian team’s attacks. At the other end of the pitch, Korea’s goalkeeper Hwang Hyeon was called into action early and demonstrated that she was on form and it would be a tough ask to get past her.
The move that did beat Hwang was a mix of high quality control and determined scrambling. First Vitality Player of the Match Sarah Haycroft brought an aerial ball down with a sumptuous display of ball control.
Her first shot was saved by Hwang who then created a barrier that thwarted two more attempts from Susannah Townsend and Hannah Martin. Finally Sophie Bray latched onto the ball and was able to nudge it home. As the stadium erupted a new sense of confidence seemed to run through the England team.
The possession rates at half time told the story, England had 65 per cent of possession and had taken 10 shots. Korea had not troubled England’s goalkeeper Maddie Hinch once. Among the England moves was a beautiful interception and run by Hannah Martin. Her cross just eluded Townsend who was arriving at speed at the far post. In another move, Alex Danson was clear on goal but, unusually for her, didn’t convert the chance.
After half time it was much of the same. England continued to push but the second goal continued to evade the England strikers. Time and again the players made fantastic runs and there were some lovely patterns of play but the final goal refused to come.
Korea also made their first incursion into the England circle, Cheon Seul Ki received the ball but her shot was just wide.
“We knew that is how Korea would play,” said Haycroft. “They tend to sit deep and then spring forward, so we needed to get into those pockets and control it.”
That famous Korea counterattack nearly happened in the 54th minute when An Hyoju broke throught the England defence and fired a shot at Hinch. Head Coach Huh Sang Young removed the ‘keeper and Korea kept piling forwards.
To the England defence’s credit they didn’t panic and the game was put beyond reach when Lily Owsley set off on a trademark sprint and finished with a shot that sealed the win and sent England through to a quarter-final encounter with the Netherlands.
“We were connected today and created lots of opportunities,” said Haycroft. “It showed that we were all on the same page today and we have grown from day to day.
“We are so looking forward to playing the Dutch in front of a home crowd. The crowd will relish it as much as we will. The last time the Dutch played us on this ground was the EuroHockey Final in 2015 which we won. We have learned to tweak things through this tournament. The Dutch by contrast haven’t started well but haven’t been punished for it so we will try to hit them hard from the start.”
The result means England will now face the world number one side, The Netherlands at 20:15 (UTC) on Thursday 2 August. India will play Pool C winners Ireland in the earlier match at 18:00.
Tomorrow’s action sees Germany (WR:6) take on Spain (WR:11) at 18:00, followed by Australia against Argentina at 20:15.
Italy v India 0-3
England v Korea 2-0
Quarter for Wednesday 1 August
18:00: Germany v Spain
20:15: Australia v Argentina