Eighteen brave men from Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region produced a gritty performance to help debutants China register a fighting 2-2 draw against higher-ranked England in a Pool B match of the men's hockey World Cup here Friday.
Unusual it may sound, but very few people know that China's entire 18-member men's hockey team making its debut in the World Cup belongs to just one province -- Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. China is made up of 34 provinces.
These 18 brave hearts fought hard and stunningly held world no.7 England with a last-minute goal to eke out a point from the encounter.
China's men's hockey team's best result in the sport till date is a silver medal finish at the 2006 Doha Asian Games but they sprung a surprise in its maiden World Cup match.
England started the match as overwhelming favourites, but the Chinese stunned their opponents early in the game when Xiaoping Gao (5th minute) scored a brilliant field goal from a tight angle after dribbling past three defenders.
Taken aback by the goal, the Englishmen went on the offensive and finally managed to equalise a minute from the first quarter when Mark Gleghorne (14th) converted a penalty corner.
Thereafter, it was a struggle for the English to break the resolute Chinese defence despite enjoying lion's share of possession and creating numerous chances.
A silly defensive mistake by Yang Ao inside the box allowed England to take the lead through Liam Ansell in the 48th minute.
But the Chinese didn't give up and continued to show sparks in patches. While defending stoutly, they also started to threaten the English citadel with swift counter-attacks.
China's persistence finally bore fruit and the brave men broke England's heart just a minute from the final hooter.
From one such counter-attack China secured a penalty corner in the 59th minute, which was inarguably their last try, and Talake Du was precise with his dragflick to sent his dug out into a frenzy.
China's South Korean coach Sang Ryul Kim praised the lion-hearted efforts of his men, saying the result came as a "surprise" to him.
"We came here with no high expectation as we are making our debut. What we wanted was to show fight and we did that today. It was a gritty performance from the boys and it was a good surprise to see us score 2 goals today," Kim said after the match.
China will next play Ireland on December 4 while England will be up against reigning two-time world champions Australia on the same day.