France, the lowest ranked team competing at the International Hockey Federation (FIH) Men’s World Cup in Bhubaneswar, stunned the hockey world by defeating Olympic champions Argentina to earn a second-place finish in Pool A.
A 5-3 victory for the 20th-ranked France against Los Leones was undisputedly the biggest shock of the competition so far, upsetting the FIH Hero World Rankings both in terms of the result and the effect on the final standings in the pool.
The European side finished behind Argentina and above higher-ranked New Zealand on goal difference while eliminating neighbours Spain from the competition after the latter two sides had drawn 2-2.
That result meant France were in last place as they took to the field against the Rio 2016 gold medallists, and needing something extraordinary against a team already assured of the Pool A victory to progress.
To the delight of the crowd in the Kalinga Stadium, they duly produced it.
France stormed into a fantasy 4-1 half-time lead thanks to goals from Hugo Genestet, Victor Charlet, Aristide Coisne and Gaspard Baumgarten.
But Argentina have proven many times down the years that they are capable of coming back from difficult positions.
Gonzalo Peillat’s low penalty corner just before the end of the third quarter gave the South Americans hope, setting up an exciting final quarter.
Another ferocious penalty corner drag-flick from Peillat made it 4-3 at the start of the fourth period, but it was France who had the last say when Francois Goyet deflected home to seal an extraordinary 5-3 victory to move into the cross-over play-offs as the second placed finisher in Pool A.
"It’s really amazing, an incredible game for us," French player Hugo Genestet said.
“I think the first-half was almost perfect, although we stepped down a little bit after half-time.
“They scored with one of the best drag flickers in the world, but out fifth goal was really cool, arriving at a good moment.
"We know we can beat every team in this competition, but 5-3 against the Olympic champion and to finish second in the pool, it’s incredible."
France create shockwaves on Day 6 of Odisha #HWC2018 Bhubaneswar!— International Hockey Federation (@FIH_Hockey) December 6, 2018
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@FF_Hockey @ArgFieldHockey @AbsolutaMasc @BlackSticks pic.twitter.com/NlCQdzLD2G
Despite the result, it was a milestone day for Argentina’s Agustin Mazzilli, who made his 200th senior international appearance for Los Leones.
The earlier draw against the Black Sticks had moved Spain temporarily into third in the table, a point ahead of France.
World-ranked eight, Spain had started the day two points behind opponents ranked one place below them in the rankings, but established a commanding 2-0 lead going into half time.
Albert Beltran’s backhand shot flew into the roof of the New Zealand goal after just nine minutes and the advantage was doubled by a close-range effort from Alvaro Iglesias two minutes before the end of the second quarter.
But New Zealand responded in the final quarter as Hayden Phillips smashed a shot into the top corner with nine minutes remaining.
Sensing the come-back was on, Black Sticks Head Coach Darren Smith replaced his goalkeeper with an outfield player to increase the pressure on the Europeans.
It worked, with Kane Russell scoring a low penalty corner drag-flick to move New Zealand up to second in the pool.
Tomorrow the final matches in Pool B will take place.
Australia, already confirmed as winners of this pool, will take on undefeated China before Ireland meet England.
Pool winners will earn a direct ticket to the quarter finals, while the teams that finish second and third will go into the cross-over play-offs.
The team that finishes fourth will be eliminated from the competition.