The women's semi-finals of the GANT EuroHockey Championships saw a superior Dutch side earn an eventually hard-fought victory over England and Germany sneak past Spain for another edition of the Netherlands v Germany pairing that is the European women's final for the fourth time in a row. In the relegation pool encounters, Belgium defeated Italy 4-0, and Ireland logged their first win of the tournament against Azerbaijan.
Italy and Belgium started off the day's programme with a relegation pool encounter, and the Belgian team did not waste any time, scoring with less than a minute on the clock when Anouk Raes put away a low hit to the left. Lieselotte von Lindt increased the tally with a penalty corner five minutes later, and the Belgians were thus already two goals ahead with the match barely started. In a slow game without many highlights, they held on to the scoreline until halftime and beyond. The Italian players looked increasingly tired, and the pace of the match slowed down, as the Belgian side restricted themselves to doing the necessary. Nonetheless, Jill Boon and Hélène Delmee piled on two late goals for a convincing 4-0 win which will almost certainly see the Belgians maintain A division status by themselves to qualify for the next Championships which will be held in their own country not only as the hosts.
The other relegation pool match was between Ireland and Azerbaijan. Ireland jumped into the match well prepared, focussed and determined, and the girls in green dominated the match from the start, but couldn't capitalize on their opportunties, while Azerbaijan never managed to put any pressure on the Irish defense. Michelle Harvey finally broke the spell in the 32nd minute with a penalty corner conversion to put Ireland 1-0 in the lead. The second half continued much like the first, with Ireland dictating play and creating much danger deep in the Azeri half of the field. Emma Clarke scored a well deserved second goal for the Irish in the 58th minute, and Nicky Symmons added another, before Azerbaijan's captain Kim Yoon Seon managed the consolation goal for her team in the dying minutes of the match. This result sees Ireland hold on to the possibility of maintaining A status and playing with Europe's elite again in 2013.
The first highlight of the day followed in the form of the first semi-final, which saw the Netherlands lock horns with the English who had topped their pool with three wins in as many games. England started well and narrowly missed out on scoring in the first few minutes of the match, but the Dutch side soon took charge, doing much of the attacking, while England was busy for long stretches of the match with just keeping the opponents at bay. Twelve minutes into the match, the Dutch were awarded their first penalty corner of the match which they used wisely: Maartje Paumen's flick was blocked well by Beth Storry, but the English keeper could not ward off Carlien Dirkse van der Heuvel's shot on the rebound. Now in the lead, Holland kept attacking but could not find the goal again until late in the scond half when Kim Lammers deflected a powerful shot from Eva de Goede into the goal. England played a solid match but could not create danger and the Dutch were deserved winners at the end. Holland's win also finalized the details of Olympic qualification: England going into the bronze medal game meant that the two available tickets to London would go to the two finalists in the tournament.
Rounding up the day was the second semi-final between Spain and Germany, with both teams eager to secure a certain place in the Olympic hockey tournament already. In front of a good size crowd, the hosts took the initiative from the start and created the first opportunities, which also bore fruit when Eileen Hoffmann sank a reverse stick shot from close range. Subsequently, Germany remained the stronger team, but instead of extending their lead, they had to take a surprise setback in their campaign when Beatriz Perez finished off a quick free hit to score the equalizer. The home team kept attacking, albeit with less fervor than before, and trying to regain their advantage, but the Spanish defense stood deep and firm, denying them once and again. Evergreen Natascha Keller finally stepped up to set things right, sending a cracking hit into the net from close range off an Eileen Hoffman hit into the circle. Spain had a late chance to force the game into extra time through Barbara Malda, but the scoreline stayed as it was, and the final whistle set off wild celebrations amongst the fans.
Therefore, on the final day of the women's GANT EuroHockey Championships, Italy will play Ireland and Azerbaijan will play Belgium in the relegation pool, before England take on Spain for the bronze medal. The programm is completed by the grand final between the Netherlands and Germany for the European Champions' title.
For more information on this event, please visit the EHF website www.eurohockey.org.
The EuroHockey Championships, held in Mönchengladbach from 20 to 28 August 2011, have confirmed 5 more participants in the 2012 Olympic hockey tournament in addition to the already qualified Great Britain men and women, Pakistan men and China and Korea women: the men of Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium have secured their ticket to London, as well as the women of Germany and the Netherlands.
Italy - Belgium 0:4 (0:2)
Anouk Raes, Lieselotte van Lindt, Jill Boon, Hélène Delmee
Azerbaijan - Ireland 1:3 (0:1)
Kim Yoon Seon; Michelle Harvey, Emma Clarke, Nicola Symmons
Holland - England 2:0 (1:0)
Carlien Dirkse van der Heuvel, Kim Lammers
Spain - Germany 1:2 (1:1)
Beatriz Perez; Eileen Hoffmann, Natascha Keller
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