“Of course we dream of winning a World Cup, which athlete doesn’t?”
England captain George Pinner is typically honest as he weighs up England’s chances of glory ahead of their Hockey Men’s World Cup semi-final with Belgium. However any notion that the giant goalkeeper has his head in the clouds and has taken his focus off the job at hand is quickly dispelled:
“We’ve done everything we can to prepare. We want to win our semi-final but our key success has been focusing on the process and not getting ahead of ourselves. Yes, I think people will be going to bed dreaming of what could be, but firstly, certainly during waking hours we’ll be focusing on nailing the detail and putting in two good performances, in the remaining two games. If we can do that then who knows what we can achieve?”
Pinner, a veteran of approaching 200 international caps has been here before. He was part of the England side who reached the semi-finals in the 2014 World Cup where they were beaten by the hosts, Netherlands, eventually having to settle for fourth place. One of the stand out games of that 2014 campaign was the final pool game – against Saturday’s semi-final opponents Belgium. England went in knowing only a win would see them through to the semi-finals. Eventually, Iain Lewers’ penalty stroke four minutes from time secured a 3-2 win in an incredible contest. Pinner says that was a “fantastic game to be part of” and is hoping for a similar outcome on Saturday.
“We’re looking forward to Belgium. We’ve had some time to relax and rest before beginning our preparation it’s an exciting opportunity for us. We’ve faced them in a few big games in the past; obviously the 2014 game sticks out in the memory. I’m sure it’ll be really tough but we’ll see how Danny [Kerry] sets us up and we’ll give it a good go. Hopefully we can get a result again this week.”
After a draw and a defeat in their opening two games, England burst into life with a win over Ireland to secure their place in the crossovers against New Zealand. After defeating the Blacksticks they then beat Olympic Champions Argentina to set up this semi-final with the Red Lions. Whilst the tactics and on pitch details have been vital, Pinner pointed out the role of the mental side of things in seeing them through a series of tough, high pressure situations.
“What Danny’s introduced and the work our psychologists have done with us since Rio has been so important. We’ve spent a lot of time on how we want to think under pressure. Working on thinking clearly, remembering the game plan under pressure on the pitch, those kind of things.”
“Obviously going down to ten men [against Argentina] does put you under pressure but we managed to keep a clear head in that situation and manage the game. All of that work has had an impact on us overcoming difficult situations. We’ve had must win games and pressure and so far we’ve turned up and delivered. Let’s hope we can do it in two more matches.”
Do England dare to dream? No. First, they must focus on the process. It’s worked well for them so far.