On day 4 in Baku, Ukraine defeated Chile, Belarus inflicted four goals on Kenya, and Spain crushed a listless Azerbaijan, booking their spot in the final and declaring themselves the big favorites for the ticket to Beijing.
In the entertaining first match of the day, Ukraine and Chile showed themselves fairly equal opponents, both fighting hard in this intense encounter. Ukraine went ahead early on Maryna Vynohradova's fifth goal of the competition, but Chile immediately reeled them back in when Andrea Sanchez scored the equalizer less than two minutes later.
After opportunities on both sides, it was Bohdana Sadova who secured the win for her team, scoring a beautiful goal after a lovely solo run and outplaying Chile's goalkeeper. The defeat was unlucky for Chile, who had slight advantages throughout the match but failed because of their low conversion rate on their chances.
Considering the number of opportunities and shots on goal, the South Americans should definitely have won this encounter, but Ukraine were more efficient today, and used the few opportunities they had to the fullest, winning the game 2-1.
Next up were Kenya and Belarus, both at the bottom of the table without points before today's match. Once more, it was an encounter evoking David and Goliath thoughts, with the Kenyans playing their hearts out but not standing a chance against Belarus. It took Belarus until the second half however to get their first goal, with Alesia Tratsiakova the one to break the spell.
Yuliya Laptsevich added her first of the day little later, and piled on another a minute from the end, with Alesia Piotukh scoring the fourth with only seconds to go in the match. Kenya on the other hand had what was probably their best opportunity so far, with Esther Mulli getting as close to scoring Kenya's first goal in the event as they have ever been before here.
Overall, Belarus won deservedly but did not play well. They made good use of the Kenyans' exhaustion towards the end of the match to win their first three points, but should be far from content with their performance today.
The final match of the day provided what was considered to be a preview of the final - even though the course of the game and the final result were far from anyone's expectations. Azerbaijan started off sluggish and had trouble finding their way into the match, while Spain played well, concentrated and with a true team effort.
Silvia Muñoz started the scoring, deflecting a free hit into the net in the 12th minute, and Raquel Huertas added another from a penalty stroke eight minutes later, awarded when a penalty corner had hit the last defender's body. Four minutes later, Rocio Ybarra slapped in a rebound off another penalty corner for the 3-0 half-time lead that looked - and later proved to be - insurmountable.
Spain scored one more in the second half, when Ybarra once more finished off a penalty corner, but generally played with more pace and less urgency. The 4-0 end result reflected the match well, Spain having put in a solid performance against a disappointing home team who never found their feet. With this win, the Iberians have booked their place in the final, while the Azeri hosts suddenly find themselves fighting for their place in the final, having to at least draw Ukraine on Friday.
After four rounds of pool play, Spain is now the solitary table leader, maintaining a perfect record, followed by Azerbaijan in second place and Ukraine in third, both on nine points. Chile in fourth and Belarus in fifth position are both on three points, while Kenya are still in sixth place, without a point or goal after four matches.
In the list of goalscorers, Azerbaijan's Mi Kyung Aliyeva maintains first place on six goals, followed by Maryna Vynohradova from Ukraine on five, and Spain's Barbara Malda and Azerbaijan's Myungsoon Mammadova both on four.
Tomorrow is a rest day here in Baku, with play resuming with the last round of pool matches on Friday, when Spain meet Kenya, Chile take on Belarus, and Azerbaijan and Ukraine clash in the deciding match: Ukraine need to win to reach the final, while Azerbaijan will go through if they draw or win.
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