South Africa defeated India, 3-1, in an intense Final to earn its qualification for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Italy fended a late challenge from Ukraine to win 2-1 and finish the Hevent with the bronze medal. Canada ended on a positive note against Poland with a 3-0 win.
Final: South Africa vs. India: 3-1 (half-time: 2-0)
South Africa finished at the top of the round-robin standings with four wins and a draw (against Italy), while India had a draw against Ukraine on opening day, lost 5-2 to South Africaand qualified to the Final with a late goal against Italy.
Of course, none of that mattered anymore: at the end of the 70 minutes of this winner-take-all Final, one team would go to the Olympic Games in London and the other would watch the Games on television.
The South Africans did not waste any time staking its claim on the ticket to London: within three minutes of play, a cross from the right eluded the Indian defence and found Shelley Russell unmarked in the circle, with space and time to turn and slot a reversed shot past a stunned Yogita Bali in the Indian goal.
The host crowd found its voice a few minutes later when India earned a penalty-corner, but they could not control it and Sulette Damons promptly pushed away the danger. South Africa was under pressure for the next twenty minutes but showed its experience by calmly weathering the storm, well organized around Marsha Marescia.
On a ball stolen in midfield by Pietie Coetzee, south Africa earned a penalty-corner, but could not control it. South Africa had another unsuccessful attempt at penalty-corner before Coetzee was finally on target for the third one with a hard low flick, giving South Africa a 2-0 lead going into the break.
India went into full attack mode and started second period with all guns blazing. South Africa was saved on one occasion by its goal-keeper Mariette Rix, standing tall in front of a high forward entering the circle at speed with no defender in sight.
But the Indian efforts were not structured enough, often ending in long balls sent towards high forward looking for a deflection in the circle. The South Africans stayed regrouped in their 25m, closing the options for the Indian attackers and patiently buying their time.
On a rare incursion in the Indian circle, Coetzee hit the post, but was awarded a penalty-corner. Her low flick was deflected in front of the goal-keeper by Marescia for a third goal that made the ticket to London a near reality for the South Africans.
The Indian players and the local crowd were after the third goal and the vuvuzelas of the few South African fans were joyfully competing with the usually boisterous crowd. India was however not done yet and scored on penalty-corner by Jaspreet Kaur with fifteen minutes to go, ensuring an intense end of match. India tried until the end, but the clock was ticking down too fast for them, and South Africa was soon celebrating a 3-1 win and, more important, its qualification for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Player of the Final was Marsha Marescia, captain of South Africa, who won a Hero scooter!
For more information on RSA v IND, click here.
3rd-4th: Italy vs. Ukraine: 2-1 (half-time: 1-0)
Italy was one goal away from qualifying for the Final, only losing to India 1-0 on a late goal. Ukraine stunned India on opening day with a 1-1 draw then beat Canada, 5-2, to earn a berth in the third-place game.
The start of match was animated, Ukraine was playing forward with a lot of purpose and pushing Italy on its heels. After the hard match played late last night against India, it took Italy nearly twenty minutes to find its momentum and take control. Italy forced two penalty-corners but could not generate much danger for Alvina Budonna in the Ukrainian goal.
Ukraine had a chance on a scramble in the circle in the last ten minutes of the half, but were denied by a miraculous save by Roberta Lilliu in the Italian goal. Ukraine kept pushing but the last chance of the period was for Italy at the other end on a last minute penalty-corner scored by Alessia Padalino with a direct shot.
Ukraine came back early in second period, with a penalty-corner scored by Bohdana Sadova. The goal woke-up the Italian team and it promptly regained control with two chances on penalty-corners, but the Ukrainian defense had by now figured out Padalino’s shot and defended well.
The clock was ticking down and extra-time was not an appealing to teams playing their sixth match in eight days. Italy pushed for a decision and it came in the 67th minute, once by Padalino, left alone in the middle of the circle and batting in goal a bouncing ball that had eluded a defender. With this goal, Padalino overtook South African Dirkie Chamberlain at the top of the Goal Scorers list with eight goals.
Ukraine threw everything they had left in the last few minutes, but were unlucky to hit the post. Immediately following there was penalty-corner awarded in the dying seconds of the match, but Italy called upon the video-umpire to review the penalty-corner call, but it stood for a dramatic last chance attempt. It was saved by the defense and Italy celebrated winning the bronze medals of this Hero FIH Road to London tournament wiht a 2-1 win.
Player of the Match was Valentina Braconi Brisigelli of Italy.
For more information on ITA v UKR, click here.
5th-6th: Canada vs. Poland: 3-0 (half-time: 1-0)
Poland, the lowest ranked team here, finished the round-robin with five losses, while Canada, ranked fourth, only collected points from a draw against Italy on opening day and a win against Poland.
Canada controlled play, carrying the ball up-field swiftly, but was short on idea once inside the Polish 25m. After fifteen minutes of play, Kate Thompson penetrated the circle on the left and found Thea Culley in front of the goal; she slotted the ball in the corner to open the scoring.
Poland had a good reaction and challenged a few times Kaitlyn Williams in the Canadian goal, but Canada maintained their overall domination of play. They could however not score again and went into the half-time break with a meagre one-goal lead.
The Canadians resumed its domination in second period and was immediately dangerous. Brienne Stairs first hit the post but was on hand a few minutes later to deflect in goal another shot by Culley, very active upfront in this match. Canada scored again the 45th minute on a penalty-corner. It was initially not stopped properly, but retrieved by Katie Baker who managed to find back striker Stephanie Jameson for a powerful shot on target.
Despite its comfortable three-goal lead, Canada maintained the pressure but did not score again. Poland had a late surge and was unlucky to hit the crossbar on a penalty-corner, then denied by Williams on a series of shots from close range.
The match ended with a deserved 3-0 win for Canada, satisfied to finish on a positive note but overall disappointed with results in this Hero FIH Road to London competition.
Player of the Match was Thea Culley of Canada.
For more information on CAN v POL, click here.
1) South Africa, qualified for the 2012 Olympic Games in London
Player of the Tournament: Marsha MARESCIA (South Africa)
Goal-keeper of the Tournament: Roberta LILLIU (Italy)
Top Goal Scorer: Alessia PADALINO (Italy), 8 goals
Fair Play: India
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