Roper stars as Wimbledon fell German giants
PHIL ROPER was the Man of the Match with two goals as England League winners Wimbledon upset the form book with a 3-1 win over three-time champions UHC Hamburg at the Euro Hockey League KO16 in Eindhoven.
Under coach Ben Hawes, Wimbledon’s progress into KO8, the quarter-final stage, on their second appearance at the EHL, was the best performance by an English club since Reading in 2013 and banished the memory of last year’s 3-1 defeat by Amsterdam at the KO16 stage.
After Holcombe’s failure to progress after a 2-1 loss to last season’s eventual EHL champions the Dutch club Kampong in the first round in October a Wimbledon win was needed to ensure that two English clubs play in next season’s competition. As league champions Wimbledon had already booked one place with the second being decided at next weekend’s domestic Final Four play-offs in the Olympic Park.
Against UHC Wimbledon’s flowing hockey kept them generally in control while the Germans never captured their usual rhythm, lost their shape and continued to make uncharacteristic mistakes. Their captain Moritz Furste ploughed a lone furrow, taking the game to their opponents, but he had little effective support from his team-mates.
A contender to rival Roper as Man of the Match was Wimbledon’s goalkeeper James Bailey who played a major part in successfully defending Hamburg’s six penalty corners
The first quarter was evenly contested before Roper struck on 14 minutes, collecting a pass from Henry Weir, rounding the keeper and shooting from an acute angle for German defender Jonas Swiatek to deflect the ball in off the crossbar.
Ben Arnold doubled the lead in the 35th minute from close range after Simon Mantell’s dribble along the back line set up the chance.
Julius Schmid gave the Germans hope with a 49th minute deflection from Max Kapaun’s run and cross but this was extinguished after Hamburg keeper Nicolas Jacobi was replaced by Furste as kicking back with 2:45 to go. A Wimbledon counter attack ended with Roper running the ball into an open net with 15 seconds remaining.
“Our defence was key today,” said Roper. “It’s always hard playing a German side. They are so organised and like to be really patient and find the gaps.
“But our pressing was spot on. We did our research and that gave us the ability to play good attacking hockey when we won the ball.
“Winning the league has meant we’ve learned how to win ugly and win well this year, which has given us a really good stepping stone to come into the EHL and see what we can do.
“We will do our research ahead of Monday’s match and come and put in another good shift and see how we go,” he added.
On Monday Wimbledon face another German side Mannheimer for a place in the semi-finals in Belgium on 3/4 June.
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