(Photo: © FIH / Yevheniy Burov)

On day 4 in Kazan, Belgium surprised the Netherlands Antilles, defeating them to boost their hopes of the final, USA as good as confirmed their place in the final with a 4-0 win over India, and Russia overcame France.

Belgium 3 v Netherlands Antilles 2

Belgium put a massive dent into the qualification hopes of Netherlands Antilles, and boosted their own prospects of an appearance in Sunday’s tournament final thanks to a thrilling 3-2 victory. The result was Belgium’s third win in their last three matches and moves the side into second place in the league table, leapfrogging their defeated opponents.

The match was, as expected, a lively encounter. It was also fiercely contested, so much so that in the 20th minute umpire Carolina de la FUENTE had to stop time to request the players to calm themselves down.  Just a minute later, Netherlands Antilles took the lead through Maria Hinskens, who dived in front of goal to deflect a cross past Belgium goalkeeper Elizabeth Achten.

It was a big blow to the ambitions of Belgium, but they were not prepared to go down without a fight. The side attacked regularly and impressively, but lacked precision in the final pass to create the chances that they needed. The first yellow card of the game was awarded to Netherlands Antilles’ Theresia Noorlander in the 31st minute for a crude tackle, and it was not to be the last card of that particular colour shown in this game.

The opening phase of the second half was dominated by Belgium, and it seemed that the equaliser would be inevitable. Eventually, Sophie Gierts fired in a field goal which was no more than her side deserved and was the catalyst for further domination from Belgium. Olivia Bouche then made it 2-1 for her team, tapping in at the right post after an excellent team attack, before Sophie Gierts effectively put the game out of reach when she finished off a goalmouth scramble.

Netherlands Antilles were clearly stunned by this turnaround but found the energy to try and rescue the game, but struggled to break down the Belgium defense. Their cause was not helped by three yellow cards in the final five minutes of the game for Maria Hinskens, Ernestina Schreuder and Kim de Haas, as frustration got the better of them. Marlies van der Stel pulled a goal back for Netherlands Antilles but it was too late for equaliser. It was a superb victory and performance for Belgium, giving them a genuine chance of reaching the tournament final.


USA 4 v India 0

USA struggled with India for a long time today, unable to cope with the Asians' playing style that is so different from theirs. India fought hard and denied the Americans a goal until a tap across the line off a good pass into the circle by Jesse Gey late in the first half opened the gates.

The USA added another shortly after the break, as Kelly Doton sunk a short corner, and piled on two more within ten minutes through Angie Loy and Carrie Lingo. USA controlled the game well in the second half, denying the Indians space and holding their four-goal lead over time, until the siren sounded the end of regulation time.

The USA thus as good as booked their place in Sunday's all-important final, and confirmed their role as tournament favorites, having won four of their first four matches, with a total goal difference of 21-2.


France 2 v Russia 5

In the final match of the day, the two teams at the bottom of the table met, France and Russia. The hosts pulled away early with goals from Irina Kuzmina and Maria Nikitine, but France replied soon enough, coming back from two goals down to level scores through Philippine Berly and Géralsine Bonenfant - the first two goals of France in the tournament.

Late in the first half, Irina Kuzmina slapped a rebound off a shot on goal over the line to regain the lead for her side, and send Russia into the break at an advantage, one that France could not overcome a second time.

Olga Shentsova added a fourth goal for Russia shortly after the break, putting the home team safely out of reach, and Russia went on to dominate the biggest part of the second half. They had scores of chances but could not make use of them, apart from a last minute penalty corner goal from Marina Dudko that established the final 5-2 result.

With this win, Russia have a theoretical chance of reaching the bronze medal play-off if they fare better in Saturday's last round of pool matches than India. France on the other hand have now recorded four defeats in four matches, scoring just two goals while conceding nineteen, showing clearly that their very young and unexperienced squad is far from ready to compete on this level.

  
With one round of pool matches to play, USA top the table and have already secured their place in the final. Belgium and Netherlands Antilles follow behind, with India in fourth place, Russia in fifth, and France bringing up the rear.

Angie Loy tops the list of goalscorers on five goals, followed by teammate Tiffany Snow and Russian Irina Kuzmina on four, and Belgians Carole Dembour and Sofie Gierts, as well as Carrie Lingo from the USA team, all on three.

After tomorrow's rest day, Belgium will face Russia on Saturday knowing that a victory should be enough to put them into the final. However, with both Belgium and Netherlands Antilles – who play USA on Saturday - having equal points with one match to go, goal difference may be factor.


Saturday, 26 April 2008 - Schedule

11:05 Netherlands Antilles v USA
13:05 India v France
15:05 Russia v Belgium

For official match sheets and live commentaries from the games, please visit the FIH tournament microsite.