Saturday 1 July
The penultimate day of action at the FINTRO Hockey World League Semi-Final finished with high drama as New Zealand pushed Netherlands all the way but fell short in the penalty shootout.
Earlier in the day, Italy upset the rankings by knocking Spain out of the 5th place play-off, while Australia turned on the style to beat Belgium. China sealed their place in the final just as they did in the 2015 edition.
Spain v Italy 1-1 (Italy win 4-3 penalty shoot-out)
?A tense, exciting match between two attack-minded teams ended in joy for Italy and heart-break for Spain as the match went to shoot-out and goalkeeper Martina Chirica proved the hero as Italy earned a place in the all-important 5/6th place play-off on Sunday 2 July.
Despite less possession, fewer shots and a lot of pressure from a high-ranked team, Italy took the lead in the 32nd minute of the game and looked to be heading a step closer to World Cup qualification.
However, Spain’s inspirational captain Rocio Ybarra led her team to an equaliser with under two minutes left on the clock. The goal sent the game to shoot-out, with Chirico stepping up to save two goals from four attempts.
Spain began this game the stronger and by half time had created several scoring opportunities, including three penalty corners. Martina Chirico was on top of her game in the Italian goal and made some great saves to keep her side very much in the game.
As the half drew to a close, Spain continued to press, but they were faced by a solid Italian defence, who were able to deal with the Spanish passing game. Adrian Lock, head coach to the 10th-ranked Spanish side, speaking at half-time, said his team needed to take their chances or they would be in danger of being hit on the break.
Minutes later Lock’s words proved prophetic as a run by Marcela Casale split the Spanish defence and Elisabetta Pacella had an easy target to place the ball past Ruiz to put the team ranked 16th in the world into the lead.
Drama in the final 10 minutes saw Spain’s Lola Riera hit the post and the follow-up shot by Beatriz Perez brilliantly saved by Chirico. But Italy’s defence could not withstand the Spanish attack indefinitely and Ybarra was on hand to pop the ball past Chirico.
Lara Oviedo scored the pick of a flawless set of shoot-out goals for Italy to send the lower-ranked team into the 5/6th place match.
Australia v Belgium 5-1
Australia hit the ground running as they took on the host nation Belgium in the second 5/6th place play-off. Although Belgium found their competitive edge in the second half, the damage had already been done and the Hockeyroos booked their place against Italy in Sunday’s crucial match to secure a place at the 2018 Hockey World Cup.
Australia got off to the perfect start when Kathryn Slattery was on target in the fourth minute of the game. Her opportunistic goal was followed three minutes into the second quarter by a rocket of a penalty corner from Maddy Fitzpatrick.
After the earlier sparkling performances from Belgium, this was a very different encounter. The Hockeyroos were full of energy and attacking verve, while Belgium seemed to be fatigued and lacking their previous flair. Australia took a 3-0 lead when Georgina Morgan stepped up and fired home a penalty corner after some great one-touch passing by her teammates.
The second half saw the Red Panthers coming back into the game, with Alix Gerniers performing her usual tricky stick work to turn the Australia defence inside out. The subsequent penalty corner was chased down and Australia set off on the counter. Elena Sotgui, who replaced Aisling D’Hooghe in the Belgium goal at half-time, was called upon to make a sharp save.
Australia added to their score when Madi Ratcliffe scored from open play after yet more sharp passing between the Hockeyroos midfield.
Belgium came back with a rocket of their own when Louise Versavel fired home a penalty corner and this gave the Belgium team a real boost in confidence. Anouk Raes was unlucky not to score when she received the ball wide from a penalty corner and Jill Boon also gave a line of Belgium forwards a great chance to score as she passed directly across the face of Rachael Lynch’s goal.
Jane Claxton and Emily Smith combined to score Australia’s fifth goal. Claxton drew the defence, leaving Smith with just the goalkeeper to beat.
Korea v China 0-3
China’s Zhang Xiaoxue celebrated 100 caps on the day her team made their way into the final of the FINTRO Hockey World League Semi-Final after a demolition job on Asian rivals Korea.
The teams ranked eighth (China) and ninth (Korea) in the world battled through some wet conditions to establish continental bragging rights as well as the opportunity to contest first place against the Netherlands.
Gu Bingfeng scored in the sixth minute of the game from a penalty corner to give China the lead in this all-Asia clash in the first semi-final match. That lead was extended in the 25th minute when Zhang Ying deflected the ball over the Korea ‘keeper Jang Soo Ji.
A stroke in the 26th was proficiently put away by Liang Meiyu to leave the Korea team with a mountain to climb in the second half.
The second half saw a more attacking performance from Korea but China are renowned for their defence and today was no different. li Dongxiao marshalled her defence and and Korea attack was effectively smothered.
This is the second successive Hockey World League Semi-Final in which China finished in fourth place in the pool and then reached the final. In 2015 they finished in second place to Great Britain.
New Zealand v Netherlands 1-1 (Netherlands win 5-4)
The Black Sticks came close to breaking their shoot-out curse when they took the Netherlands to four rounds of sudden death before the world’s number one side showed calmness and composure to slot in the all important winning goal.
Two of the most consistent performers at this event went head-to-head to decide who would meet China in the final and it was the classic competitive match that was to be expected.
Netherlands were dominant in the opening exchanges and New Zealand were hard-pressed to keep the wave after wave of pressure from translating into goals. However, as time wore on, so the New Zealand team got not just into the game, but began piling on their own pressure. It was game on at the Stade Fallon and it was a game that ended in high drama.
The Netherlands have been relatively untroubled in this tournament so far, but the Black Sticks of New Zealand were clearly relishing the opportunity to test themselves against the current World Cup holders.
While Netherlands concentrated on working the ball up the pitch to create some clear scoring opportunities, the New Zealand team presented a strong and united defence that kept the Dutch at bay throughout the first quarter of action.
A rasping reverse stick shot from Charlotte Vega was the first real signal of the Netherland’s intent, but then a wave of pressure from the team in orange indicated that Netherlands were hitting their stride.
On a counter-attack, Stacey Michelesen nearly set Olivia Merry up as she fired an ambitious pass at the forward. Tight marking by Caia van Maasakker kept Merry from taking a clear shot.
New Zealand showed their collectively determined personality, when they came out fighting in the second half and moved into the lead – Kirsten Leigh Pearce getting on the end of a fierce cross into the circle to deflect the ball past Anne Veenendaal in the Netherlands goal.
The fourth quarter saw the Netherlands increase the tempo as they won a series of penalty corners. It was on the sixth of these that penalty corner specialist Caia van Maasakker stepped up and brought her team back to level.
Samantha Harrison left the field when she took a nasty knock, while Liz Thompson was yellow carded, leaving her team a player short with nine minutes to play.
A double save by Sally Rutherford in the final seconds of regulation time kept the Black Sticks in the hunt for a place in the final.
The ensuing penalty shoot-out was tense and controversial. New Zealand thought they had won it, but the goal was scored outside the eight seconds. Ella Gunson was the unfortunate player whose final, crucial attempt was saved and New Zealand’s shoot-out curse continues.
Results – Saturday 1 July 2017
(5-8): Spain v Belgium 1-1 (Italy 4-3 penalty shoot out)
(5-8): Belgium v Australia 1-5
(SF): Korea v China 0-3
(SF): New Zealand v Netherlands 1-1 (5-4 peanlty shootout)
Match schedule for Sunday 25 June (All times local – CET)
(7-8): Spain v Belgium 11:15
(5-6):Italy v Australia 13:30
(3-4): Korea v New Zealand 15:45
(1-2): China v Netherlands 18:00