On the men's semifinal day, the Irish men held England to a draw, and France secured A division status for two more years with a win against the Czech Republic. The first semifinal was an easy win for the Netherlands who never left Belgium a chance, while Spain and Germany had a tight came, Spain only coming out on top after penalty strokes.
Another sunny day here in Manchester started this morning with the clash between England and Ireland, the first relegation pool match in the men's competition. After the surprise defeat at the hands of the Irish in their last match, Ireland desperately needed points to maintain their place among the top 8 nations in Europe, but England proved too much of an obstacle today, despite the fact that the home team looked rather deflated and listless after not making a semifinal.
Ireland started well against an unenthusiastic opponent and was rewarded with a penalty corner 12 minutes into the encounter which John Jermyn made good use of. What was only Ireland's second goal in the event, was followed no three minutes later by the equalizer however, as James Tindall found himself unmarked at the top of the circle and fired a low reverse stick shot past David Harte.
Both teams were obviously keen on getting the second goal, and the match got more entertaining as England brightened up a little. Neither team could score any more goals however, despite a string of penalty corners for the home team which saw their unusually low success rate in penalty corners in this tournament confirmed. Ireland faded in the second half and England took charge of the match but they remained unsuccessful in front of the goal, and the match ended in a 1-1 tie which in all likelihood confines Ireland to relegation.
The second relegation pool match was a rather one-sided affair as France saw the Czech Republic off to the B division for 2009 while at the same time securing A division status for themselves. The French put forward a performance that did not impress but was enough to control the match against a Czech team who have yet to score in this tournament.
Matthieu Durchon scored first for the French in the 15th minute, giving them the safety of a lead on which they cruised to half time and beyond without exerting themselves. Antoine Gouedard-Comte and Martin Genestet added two goals in the second half for the 3-0 win which confirms France as one of Europe's top 8 nations. The victory prompted coach Bertrand Reynaud to say after the match that France had now achieved their main tournament goal - to maintain this status - and were now starting their preparation for Olympic qualification with Sunday's clash with England.
In the subsequent first semifinal, the Netherlands summarily dispatched neighbors Belgium with a 7-2 win to which penalty corner ace Taeke Taekema contributed six goals, taking his tournament total to 14. With the nearest other scorer nine goals away, this almost certainly means the topscorer crown for him.
First to score in the match however were the Belgians, surprising the Dutch defense with a sudden switch that gave Loic Vandeweghe the opportunity to put the ball into the net, but Holland were quick to level the scores with Taekema's first penalty corner, upon which he added another five minutes later, while Roderick Weusthof scored Holland's third goal to give his side a comfortable two goal half time lead.
It looked like Belgium were going to get back into the game shortly after the break as Thomas van den Balck pulled one back for his side, but the Dutch soon replied with yet another Taekema goal from a corner, and they never looked back from there, marching straight into the final as Taekema steadily added to the numbers. Roelant Oltmans' team had thus made themselves the first finalists in this tournament, while Belgium will have a shot at direct qualification in Sunday's bronze medal match.
The day ended with the most exciting match of the day, and one of the most exciting encounters of the event, as Spain and Germany wrestled for the second berth in Sunday's final in a highly entertaining nailbiter. In a remake of last year's World Cup semifinal, where Germany went through with a win on penalty strokes, it was the Iberians who came out on top this time, also snatching victory on penalty strokes.
First up however was regulation time, in which Spain got off to a dream start as Xavi Ribas converted a second minute penalty corner. The lead was not for long however as mercurial German forward Christopher Zeller hit home a cracking ball in falling. The match continued at a frenetic pace, the ball travelling up and down the field constantly in a showcase for the sport, as both teams laid out fantastic attacking hockey.
The Germans then grabbed the lead midway through the first half as Carlos Nevado unleashed a reverse stick shot after escaping his opponent player with an impressively quick dash. The World Champions looked comfortable with their lead and settled down some while the Spanish grew increasingly determined as the minutes wore on but found themselves running up against the German wall of defense time and again.
The tables suddenly turned late in the second half however, as Spain put away two goals in less than three minutes. Xavi Ribas converted his second corner of the day with a hit to the left bottom corner of the goal, and David Alegre took advantage of another penalty corner that was first saved but saw the ball end up in a scramble in the overcrowded circle. Spain then went all out to take their lead to the final whistle, defending aggressively, but they could not avoid conceding a penalty corner that Christopher Zeller made good use of.
Regulation time ended with the game tied at 3-3 each, and with no extra time played in semifinals in the EuroHockey Nations tournaments, the match went straight to penalty strokes. In a complete reversal of fortunes from the Mönchengladbach semifinal clash, where three of Spain's four strikers failed, the Iberians kept their cool this time, David Alegrem Sergi Enrique, and Pol Amat all converting their strokes while Timo Wess and Philipp Zeller failed for the Germans. Edi Tubau thus had the chance of declaring victory in the match by putting away his attempt, and he did just that, taking his team to the 2008 Olympic Games.
Spain thus joined the Netherlands in a remake of the 2005 EuroHockey Nations final, while Germany and Belgium will fight for one available ticket to Beijing in Sunday's bronze medal match - also a remake from Leipzig's match for third place from two years ago.
Play resumes on Saturday with the women's final day, starting off with the relegation pool clashes between Italy and the Ukraine, and Ireland and Azerbaijan, followed by the all important bronze medal match that will see England or Spain grab a ticket to Beijingm and ending with the women's final between the Netherlands and Germany.
Relegation Pool England - Ireland 1-1 (1-1)
Relegation Pool France - Czech Republic 3-0 (1-0)
Semifinal Netherlands - Belgium 7-2 (3-1)
Semifinal Germany - Spain 3-3 (2-1) 5-7 APS
Women on Saturday, August 25
10:00 Relegation Pool Italy v Ukraine
12:00 Relegation Pool Ireland v Azerbaijan
14:00 Bronze Medal Match Spain v England
16:30 Final Netherlands v Germany
Men on Sunday, August 26
09:00 Relegation Pool Czech Republic v Ireland
11:00 Relegation Pool England v France
13:00 Bronze Medal Match Belgium v Germany
15:30 Final Netherlands v Spain
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