(Photo: © FIH / Jeff Ayliffe)

On the last day of pool play at the BDO Champions Challenge I in Cape Town, Italy defeated Azerbaijan to take Chile to the match for fifth place, South Africa went through to the final with a win over Spain, and New Zealand could afford a defeat at the hands of Japan to still join the home team in tomorrow's tournament final.

Italy and Azerbaijan started the day off with what was probably the day's most entertaining match. Azerbaijan were the more dangerous team for most of the first half, but struggled to convert their large share of ball possession and outfield superiority into shots on goal. Towards the end of the first half, Italy started to do more for the game, and was rewarded with two penalty corners in succession. The second went in for a curious goal, as a weak push from Valentina Quaranta rolled through under Azeri goalkeeper Viktoriya Shahbazova, who had reacted much too slowly and had to watch the ball passing under her in falling.

When the teams returned from the break, Italy continued strong, playing more aggressively and more cohesively than in the first half, but had difficulty to make it count. A string of short corners finally yielded a goal in the 66th minute, as Francesca Zucca pushed the rebound over the line, but off the re-start Azerbaijan rushed to win a penalty corner of their own, which gave them their first goal of the tournament, with Marina Aliyeva getting the last touch. In the final two minutes, Azerbaijan rushed for the equalizer, but the result stood, and Azerbaijan finished 7th in the tournament.

Next up were Spain and South Africa, who put forward a passionately contested match that ended with a narrow win for the home team. South Africa were the stronger team during the first ten minutes of the encounter, but then Spain found their rhythm and held their own against them, forcing the first half to a goalless end.

Coming back from the break, Spain aggressively pursued the elusive first goal that would have set them on track for the final, creating a few chances in the first few minutes, but to no avail. South Africa at the other end were luckier, scoring on one of their few breakthroughs, when Kathleen Taylor batted a high ball across into the net. The last few hectic minutes of the match gave Spain a few fantastic chances, but their valiant efforts were undercut by a total lack of luck as they put the ball a hairbreadth wide or found South Africa making saves that even they didn't understand, and so the match ended 1-0 to South Africa.

The final match of the day saw Japan take on New Zealand. The first half, largely devoid of highlights, was controlled mostly by New Zealand but ended goalless, while the action picked up midway through the second half, and both teams had a handful of opportunities. Japan continuously increased the pressure and had a string of chances towards the end of the match but couldn't get the ball in the net until the 68th minute, when Kana Nagayama sunk a field goal.

It was too late to score the remaining gaols that would have been necessary to force their way into the final howver, and so, Japan won the game but still goes into the bronze medal match tomorrow.

With these result, Italy will meet Chile in tomorrow's match for 5th place. Azerbaijan finishes 7th in the tournament and will conclude the competition with a showcase game against an invitational side tomorrow. The two matches will be followed by the bronze medal game between Japan and Spain at 13:30, and the tournament final between New Zealand and South Africa at 16:00.

For more information on the tournament, please visit our tournament site www.bdochampionschallenge1women.sportcentric.com.

Italy - Azerbaijan 2:1 (1:0)
30' ITA - Valentina QUARANTA (PC)
66' ITA - Francesca ZUCCA (PC)
68' AZE - Marina ALIYEVA (PC)

South Africa - Spain 1:0 (0:0)
47' RSA - Kathleen TAYLOR (FG)

New Zealand - Japan 0:1 (0:0)
68' JPN - Kana NAGAYAMA (FG)