First Place: Japan 5, Azerbaijan 1
Japan will make its third consecutive appearance at the Olympic Games after winning the FIH Women’s Qualification Tournament in front of a sold out home crowd in Kakamigahara. The top-seeded Japanese routed second-seeded Azerbaijan, 5-1, in today’s final.
Akane Shibata had the game of her career today. She scored two sprawling goals to help Japan build a strong first half lead. Shibata had scored only once in the previous five games.
Japan took the lead eight minutes into the game when Rika Komazawa scored a clean short corner. Komazawa also scored twice in the win. Japan doubled the advantage midway through the half when Shibata got her stick on a short corner deflection that went up and over the shoulder of Viktoriya Shahbazova. Shibata followed up her first goal by making a big stretch on her second tally to open up a 3-0 lead.
The goals continued to roll. Tournament Top Scorer Kaori Fujio got in on the fun, storming down field and putting Japan ahead 4-0 with eight minutes left in the first half.
Azerbaijan chipped into the hefty lead to open the second half scoring. Khatira Aliyeva scored her fifth penalty corner goal of the tournament to give Azerbaijan a glimmer of hope. But it did little to slow the Japanese down as Komazawa put in her second marker to bring the final to a definitive 5-1.
After the game, there were tears on both sides of the pitch. The Japanese women have been under enormous pressure as the ninth-ranked team in the FIH World Ranking, host and tournament favorite and today they could finally enjoy accomplishing their London mission.
For Azerbaijan it is the second consecutive Olympic qualifier that they have finished in second place. They also narrowly missed Beijing after losing to Spain in 2008 at home in Baku. Azerbaijan has never played at the Olympic Games.
Third-place Game: Chile 2, Belarus 1
Chile will not go home empty handed after earning the bronze medal in a 2-1 decision against Belarus. The Chileans have been the little engine that could throughout the tournament, pulling two late comebacks in the round robin stage, so it was only fitting that at last they were the ones that found themselves with the lead and were forced to stave off a late Belarus attack in the second half.
Chile took a quick 1-0 lead after Daniela Caram scored on a penalty corner that found the back of the net after deflecting off the goalkeeper’s glove. The lead doubled when Daniela’s sister, Camila struck four minutes later with another short corner. But despite holding the lead, the Chileans weren’t safe as Belarus picked up some momentum and pressured the net. Luckily for Chile, Belarus was having problems with its penalty corner and failed to convert its several chances.
Belarus finally found the back of the net when Yuliya Mikheichyk made it a 2-1 affair. The goal served to motivate the Belarus team even more as they spent the last 10 minutes trying desperately to get the tie, but Chile dug deep and ultimately earned the one-goal win.
From the four placement games, the women’s teams have finished exactly according to their World Ranking positions entering the qualifier.
Fifth-place Game: Austria 0, Malaysia 5
Malaysia picked up its first win and finished the Women’s Olympic Qualifier in fifth place after blanking Austria, 5-0, on the final day of action. A kalidescope of goals in a seven minute span ultimately lifted the Malaysians to the win as they put in three markers between the 40th and 47th minute.
Until the eruption of offense in the second half, the game was relatively tight. Malaysia held a 2-0 lead at the break after Siti Rahmah Othman and Kannagi Arumugam scored their first goals of the event. At the half, the game was wide open, but then Malaysia exploded in the second half, dominating the action from the first whistle and getting penalty corner chance after penalty corner chance.
It was a total team effort with five different players scoring in the win. The goals themselves were also balanced with three coming on the penalty corner and two open field goals. The Malaysian win was redemption for a 3-2 loss against the Austrians on the final day of round robin action.
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