In a day of dominating teams struggling to score and late goals, Chile inflicted another big defeat on Kenya, and Spain and Azerbaijan maintained their perfect records against Ukraine and Belarus respectively.
The third day of pool play at the first women's Olympic Qualifier here in Baku began with the summit of the two non-European teams, Kenya and Chile.
Chile scored early when Javiera Villagra sank her first of two today with an easy hit on an open goal, but subsequently showed great difficulty in translating its dominance into scoring opportunities. Controlling ball possession and amassing circle penetrations, Chile struggled to get in shots on goal through a big part of match, until Fernanda Rodriguez broke the spell in the 54th minute.
Taking advantage of confusion in a crowded circle, Rodriguez pushed a ball over the line, and thereby ignited a scroing spree that added three more in the last ten minutes of the match as Maria Jose Fernandez made good use of a Villagra pass, slapping the ball into the net from close range, Paula Infante converted a penalty stroke, and Javiera Villagra recorded her second with less than a minute on the clock.
Next up were Spain and Ukraine, fighting to stay at the top of the table for the day. In a fast-paced and intense encounter, Spain broke away with a goal from Nuria Camon off a penalty corner deflection, only to see Ukraine round them up again immediately with a Diana Tahiyeva goal, a deflection off a free hit just outside the circle.
Spain had the bigger part in driving the game, pushing forward tirelessly, practically constantly attacking, while Ukraine's attacks were few and far between, but always dangerous. With better ball control and more aggressive attacking, Spain kept increasing the pressure on Ukraine, until it finally paid off, and they took the lead again midway through the second half as Esther Termens deflected a penalty corner hit into the goal.
Nuria Camon added Spain's third of the day, her second, with five minutes to go, to secure Spain's third consecutive win, confirming their favorite status. Ukraine fought today, but was no match to the superior Spaniards.
In a repeat motion of the first two matches of the day, Azerbaijan also started off half-hearted and with an abysmal success rate in another intense and physical match. The hosts were very clearly the stronger team, and should have been up by two or three goals at half-time, considering the number of circle penetrations and shots on goal they had had.
Instead it was the Ukrainians who almost shocked the Azerbaijan team and capacity crowd on-site supporters when Alesia Tratsiakova could only be stopped at the very last moment by goalkeeper Yuliya Lashuk.
After a great number of wasted chances, Myungsoon Mammadova finally scored for Azerbaijan, to the great relief of her team mates, and Zarifahon Zeynalova and Mi Kyung Aliyeva piled on one each for the 3-0 final result.
All in all, it was a deserved win for Azerbaijan who had been oppressingly dominant throughout the
whole game, but could disappointingly not score until midway through the second half.
The table now has two teams with a perfect record, Azerbaijan and Spain on nine points, followed by Ukraine on six points and Chile on three, while Belarus and Kenya trail the field, both teams yet having to win their first points.
In the table of goalscorers, Mi Kyung Aliyeva remains at the top, having added one goal today to now have six to her name in this tournament, while Barbara Malda of Spain, Myungsoon Mammadova of Azerbaijan and Maryna Vynohradova from Ukraine share second place, all with four goals credited to them.
Play continues tomorrow with the encounters between Ukraine and Chile, and Kenya and Belarus before the eagerly awaited Azerbaijan versus Spain, the battle for the top of the table.
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