Brussels, Belgium: Sunday 2 July
Netherlands, China, New Zealand and Korea all qualified for the Hockey World Cup in New Zealand (17-26 November 2018), while Australia joined the four top placed teams to take their place as the fifth qualifier at the 2018 Hockey World Cup in London.
Netherlands v China 2-0
The Netherlands took first place at the FINTRO Hockey World League Semi-Finals after a patient but accomplished performance against China. For their part, the team ranked eighth in the world played their part in a spectacle worthy of a final.
The match was tightly contested and a showcase for some of the most skilful players in the game. It was a game where top scorer Caia van Maasakker was able to show off her ability to strike with pinpoint accuracy and China’s captain Cui Qiuxia demonstrated why she was the pick of the assembled media when it came to voting for Player of the Tournament.
It is also worth noting that this was an event that was also a showcase for a consistently high level of umpiring.
The final between Netherlands and China started nervously with both teams testing each other. The Dutch were the first to find their rhythm with Caia van Maasakker’s shot being well chased down by Ou Zixia. The next penalty corner shot from van Maasakker flew towards the top corner and Li Dongxiao was forced to make a flying leap to save the ball.
The second half began in much the same way. The Dutch continued to push and probe, searching for a way through the Chinese defence but, despite a huge disparity in attacking moves, the Netherlands could not find a way through. China’s own attacking moves came largely through quick breaks down either side of the pitch, with Zhang Xiaoxue in particular looking dangerous. Anne Veenendaal in the Netherlands goal was forced to make a desperate save as the ball popped unexpectedly up in front of her after Wang Na took a shot.
It was the tournament’s eventual leading goal scorer, van Maasakker who broke the deadlock. Ironically, the penalty corner shot fell to her after a scuffed shot at the top of the circle and the tall defender swept home with precision.
The match, by this stage, was far from one-way traffic. Although the Netherlands had far more shots on target, China were making their own moves up the field. The innovative play and keen running of the Chinese midfield gave the Netherlands plenty to think about and there is little doubt that China are a team that has medal-winning ambitions. The way they grew as a unit during this tournament is a sign of the potential within the national team. However, this match was all about the winning ways of the Netherlands. Van Maasakker’s second goal was also from a slightly misplaced penalty corner, this time, the shot bounced in off a defender and wrong-footed Li Dongxiao.
Korea v New Zealand 0-1
The first half was very much one-way traffic with New Zealand in the driving seat but, as has been the case for many teams at this tournament, they were unable to convert circle incursions into goals.
Korea’ s few attacks in the first half of the match were the result of counter-attacks as the midfield attempted to find Cheon Seul Ki or Cheon Eunbi, who revolved as Korea’s lone striker. In the second half, Korea came out with a much more attacking mindset. The change in tempo pushed the Black Sticks back and for the first part of the half, Korea were the team piling on the pressure.
Suddenly the New Zealand players found themselves harried when in possession and needing to chase hard when Korea had the ball as their players joined the attack in numbers. New Zealand were nearly made to pay as the quarter drew to an end. An intercept in front of the Black Sticks circle released Cheon Seul Ki and her rasping pass was tantalisingly close to Cho Hyejin’s stick. A strike by Olivia Merry signalled New Zealand’s determination to take bronze at this event but Jang Soo Ji was up to the challenge and cleared from that shot and the follow-up. In a swift change of end, Cho Hyejin again was just one step from connecting with a cross.
It was all action in the final 10 minutes as the ball travelled from end-to-end. A New Zealand penalty corner was beautifully run down by the Korea defence and then a penalty corner to Korea – their first of the match – was wasted as the slip was mis-struck. The deadlock was finally broken when Brooke Neal got hold of a penalty corner and rifled it home past Jang Soo Ji.
5/6 Australia v Italy 1-3
Australia may not have had the tournament they would have wished for, but the world number four side and Oceania champions made certain they would be present at the 2018 World Cup with a strong display against a talented and progressive Italian team.
Frederica Carta gave Italy the lead in the all-important 5/6th place play-off match against Australia. If the Hockeyroos were expecting a defensive or tentative start from the team ranked 12 places below them, then the Italians clearly hadn’t read the script. Carta’s goal was a well-taken penalty corner that came from some aggressive attacking runs from the team in blue.
Kathryn Slattery got the Hockeyroos back on even terms in the second quarter with a cracker of a shot that left Chirico with no chance of saving.
With the scores set at 1-1, Italy’s defence took a punding from a relentless Australia attack but the combination of Chirico and captain Chiara Tiddy proved hard to break down. More than 20 attempts on goal were repudiated by the stubborn team in blue.
It took the final quarter for Australia to find a way through. Georgina Morgan continued to press her claim to be the tournament’s top scorer, with five goals to her name, as she fired home a shot that flew between Chirico and Tiddy.
The third goal was sure indication that sometimes the most direct route is the mots effective. The ball fell to Madi Ratcliffe, whose first time shot put the game beyond Italy’s reach and secured her team’s place at the 2018 World Cup in London.
7/8 Spain v Belgium 1-1 (4-1 penalty shootout)
This was an open game between two well-matched European rivals. Both teams are in the development stage but equally, both sides have shown throughout the course of the tournament that they are not too far off competing with the top teams. Fast breaks, two competitive defensive units and cohesive tactics have seen both the Red Sticks and the Red Lions pose questions to higher ranked teams.
During this match, things remained tight. The first quarter saw Belgium as possibly the stronger of the two teams, with Maria Ruiz in the Spanish goal being called into action more times than her Belgium counterpart.
The second quarter however, belonged to Spain. Some good work by Belen Iglesias down the left-hand side of the pitch started the move. Her cross was deflected skywards for Lucia Jimenez to bat home past Aisling D’Hooghe. Two further penalty corners offered the Spanish side scoring opportunities but D’Hooghe and her defence stood firm.
The second half saw Belgium pushing higher as they sought the all important equaliser. Two penalty corners in the third corner saw the Belgium’s working hard to restore the balance but Spain were determined to hold on to the lead.
Belgium finally broke through with a penalty corner from Louise Versavel. The fierce shot sent the match to shoot-out, Belgium’s third of the tournament. Unfortunately it was not to be third time lucky for the Red Panthers and Spain were clinical as they scored their first four shootout attempts.
Results – 2 July 2017
(7-8): Spain v Belgium 1-1 (4-1 penalty shootout)
(5-6): Australia v Italy 1-3
(3-4): Korea v New Zealand 0-1
(1-2): Netherlands v China 2-0
3: New Zealand
Hero Best Player of the Tournament: Cui Qiuxia
Hero Top Scorer of the Tournament: Caia van Maasakker 7 goals
Best Goalkeeper: Martina Chirico (ITA)
Best Junior Player: Laura Nunnink (NED)