On the fourth day of the EuroHockey Nations Championships in Manchester, the Spanish men found their form and drubbed France 6-0. The Dutch men had more difficulties with Ireland and settled for a narrow 1-0 win. In the women's tournament, the last round of pool play saw the Netherlands and Germany also scrape up 1-0 wins against England and Spain respectively, while Azerbaijan and Ireland both got themselves into a good position in the relegation pool by defeating the Ukraine and Italy respectively.
Play started with Spain taking on France early in the day, Maurits Hendriks' boys eager to redeem themselves after the failed start against Ireland which saw them drop points against the much lower ranked Irish side. Spain came out much improved today and took charge from the beginning, putting much pressure on a French team that never quite found its rhythm. They failed to capitalize on their superiority for nearly 20 minutes however, until Xavi Ribas finally slotted home his first goal of today's hattrick from a penalty corner. With the French resistance broken, Titi Sojo, Edi Tubau, and Pol Amat, who looked well recovered from the injury that kept him out of the Spaniards' first encounter, added three in quick succession to take the scoreline to 4-0 for a halftime score.
After the break, France got their act together better and finally managed to scrape through a few times to get in a shot on goal here and there, but they could not avoid the defeat - or Xavi Ribas increasing the tally by another two with a penalty stroke and a penalty corner, both late in the game. The Spanish are thus in a relatively comfortable postion to reach the semifinals with tomorrow's result - they can secure their berth with a win or draw against the Netherlands, and even go through on goal difference if they do not concede too many goals, and neither does France against Ireland.
The second match of the day was the other men's game with the Netherlands butting heads with the Irish who put in another credible performance. The Irish started into the match on fire, and it looked like they might be able to put pressure on the Dutch with an early goal, but the experienced Holland side held firm and managed to win a penalty corner in the 16th minute which - who else? - Taeke Taekema duly converted. This was all the scoring for the game, inspite of the fact that Ireland ceaselessly pushed for the equalizer and had numerous good chances, while the Dutch also had their opportunities to extend the lead. With this win, the Dutch have an easy lead in the table of pool B of the men's competition are the only men's team to have secured a semifinal berth after round 2 of the pool stage.
Next up were the women, their last round of pool matches starting off with the clash between Azerbaijan and the Ukraine. The game got off to a scrappy start, far from pretty and with neither side finding into its game. The Ukraine were lucky to score from a penalty corner midway through the first half, as team captain Tetyana Salenko seized the opportunity, and held on to the advantage until halftime. A double hit from Dilfuza Mirzaliyeva early in the second half turned the tables however, and the Ukrainians suddenly found themselves trailing.
Inoyathon Djafarova added another from a penalty stroke halfway through the second part, effectively ending the Ukrainian chances of salvaging a point. Azerbaijan thus came out on top against a tired looking Ukrainian side but was still relegation pool-bound unless Spain was going to lose to Germany by more than 7 goals later in the day.
An uninspired encounter between Ireland and Italy followed, both teams already certain participants in the relegation pool. Ireland took home three points from the rather dull affair through goals by Cathy McKean, Jenny McDonough, and Nikki Symmons, while Italy have not won a point from three encounters and have only scored one goal in the face of 16 conceded.
The second-but-last match of the day paired Germany and Spain, with the Spanish under pressure to - in case of a defeat - not concede to many goals in order to not lose their berth in the semifinals, but with the possibility of seizing the top of the table in the pool with a win, thus avoiding the Dutch in their semifinal.
The fiercely disputed and very physical match was shaped by an emphasis on defensive work at both ends of the field, and chances were few and far between in the first half. Germany were the more successful side, as Eileen Hoffmann deflected a wide pass past Maria Jesus Rosa, a goal that spelt the halftime lead and eventually also victory.
Both teams had chances in the second half, as play opened up over time, but Germany clung to their advantage and secured first place in the group to avoid Holland in the semifinal and play England instead on Thursday.
In the last match of the day, the home team was up against Holland, with the winner playing Spain in the semifinals and the defeated side having to take on Germany. The Dutch team brought out all their experience and worked hard for a clinical win while England played for all they were worth but failed to construct compulsive opportunities. The Netherlands were the more active team, attacking more often throughout the match, but they were kept at bay by a determined England defense that left them hardly any room. The Dutch had a welath of penalty corners until Minke Booij was finally able to convert one - their eleventh of the match - in the 45th minute. The lone goal was to be enough for Holland to seize victory and come out at the top of their pool table however.
Despite the narrow result, the Dutch women still look the strongest team in this competition and remain favorites for the title. Marc Lammers will have to deal with the loss of Maartje Paumen however, one of the anchors of his defense and one of the two prolific penalty corner strikers of his side. Paumen sustained a knee injury in a clash and is thought to have torn her cruciate ligament.
In Thursday's semifinals, the Netherlands will thus take on Spain while Germany clash with England. The other four women's teams in the event go to a relegation pool and will each play the two opponents they have not yet played, carrying forward the result against the team from their original pool. Currently, Ireland thus top the relegation pool with three points and a 3-0 goal difference, just ahead of Azerbaijan also on three points with 3-1 goals, followed by the Ukraine and Italy at the bottom of the table.
Play continues tomorrow with the men's last round of pool matches. France take on Ireland, the Czech Republic play Belgium, Spain do battle with the Netherlands, and the day concludes with the match England versus Germany.
Spain - France 6-0 (4-0)
Netherlands - Ireland 1-0 (1-0)
Ukraine - Azerbaijan 1-3 (1-0)
Ireland - Italy 3-0 (1-0)
Germany - Spain 1-0 (1-0)
England - Netherlands 0-1 (0-0)
Pool A Men
|Czech Republic||0 p.||0-12|
Pool B Men
Pool A Women
Pool B Women
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