Hockey: England opponents pull out

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The Independent Online

Once again England's World Cup preparations have been hampered by the withdrawal of opponents at a late hour with no hopes of replacements being found.

First Cuba failed to arrive in Madrid for a Four Nations event, then Egypt cried off a similar event in Poland and now Malaysia have withdrawn from the King's tournament here. This leaves England only with a game this afternoon against Poland and then one on Saturday against the host nation.

Malcolm Wood, the England coach, made no effort to hide his feelings. "Disgraceful and disrespectful. I just can't put myself in their shoes," he said. The coach added: "With our sights set on the World Cup in February this tournament was on offer for players returning to the international arena to take the opportunity to stake their claim for a squad place in Kuala Lumpur. We have a new playing style and the King's event would have given the players the chance to meet the new demands. In just two games the opportunities are limited."

For Craig Parnham and Brett Garrard, returning after long lay-offs with injuries, Guy Fordham, an Army doctor back from duties in the Middle East, and Ben Sharpe making his first appearance since the Sydney Olympics because of business commitments, three games would have provided a testing return. It would also have been very useful for the two uncapped players from the England Under-21 squad, Jon Peckett, the captain, and Martin Jones, to find their feet.

The England squad, minus players likely to get a call up for Malaysia in February, will find Poland and Spain tough opposition. They lost twice to Poland last summer and have not beaten Spain since 1997.

ENGLAND SQUAD: D Hall, N Taylor, G Fordham, J Collins (all Guildford), S Mason, T Bertram, J Wyatt, M Pearn, B Barnes (all Reading), J Peckett (Southgate), C Parnham, M Jones, M Johnson, B Sharpe (all Cannock), J Goudie (Loughborough Students), B Garrard, J Wallis (both Surbiton), D Mathews (Canterbury).

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