South Africa - Ireland 0-1 (halftime: 0-0)
Hosts Ireland got their Champions Challenge I campaign off to a great start as they surprised South Africa with Chloe Watkins’ 52nd minute goal making the vital difference. It saw the girls in green edge home a tight, tense battle in which South Africa could not find the fluidity that marked the latter phases of their Olympic campaign.
In a high tempo opening, both sides had decent chances with Niamh Small finding good space for a reverse while Jade Mayne was only denied by Emma Gray’s out-stretched toe. Neither side, though, could make corners count as both let chances slip, Ireland missing out from a couple on the half-time hooter.
But Ireland took advantage in the second period when Sulette Damons was shown a yellow card and a minute later, her side were behind. Emma Smyth instigated the move before the diminutive Watkins twisted away from a pair of tackles and unleashed a rising reverse across the Sanani Mangisa’s bows.
South Africa pushed hard for an equaliser with Lesle-Ann George stinging Gray’s palm while Damons blazed wide when clean through. They could not force an equaliser, though, and Ireland had a strong win to start their week.
USA 0 Scotland 1
Scotland withstood a late barrage to start their Champions Challenge I campaign with victory over the USA, upsetting the world rankings for the second game running in Dublin.
Sarah Robertson’s was on hand to pop home a rebound in the 16th minute for what proved the only goal of the game. It was rough justice on Jackie Kintzer who brilliantly dived to deny Alison Bell’s rasping reverse-stick effort only for it to fall into the path of the on-rushing forward.
It was a deserved lead for the Scots after they looked the sharper outfit against a US side featuring three debutants. But the higher ranked Americans piled forward in the closing phases – despite yellow cards for both Lauren Pfeiffer and Lauren Crandall – and drew string of top saves from Amy Gibson. Torrie Albini had a couple of digs from penalty corners while Rachel Dawson and Katie O’Donnell were also denied as Linda Clement and co defended bravely to pick off an opening day victory.
India – Wales 3-0 (halftime: 2-0)
India opened its 2012 Champions Challenge 1 campaign with a 3-0 win against Wales. The 27th-ranked Welsh were coming straight from their World League Round One tournament and put in a valiant effort against #12 India, but in the end, the Indians were able to power through to the win.
A ten-minute span in the first half ultimately made the difference in the game for India. During the span, India sparked to life and dominated the action, scoring two goals to take a convincing lead. Captain Rani Ritu opened the scoring 18 minutes into the game with the only marker from the field. Ten minutes later Lily Chanu Mayengbam put in a penalty corner goal with a solid shot to double the lead.
Wales fought hard to chip away at the lead, but India’s defense stood its ground in the second half and held the Welsh scoreless. As a bonus for their defensive efforts, India put in the 3-0 goal right at the final buzzer to bring the scoreline to a more convincing 3-0 final.
Australia – Belgium 4-1 (halftime 2-0)
In a big Group A battle, Australia came out on top of the meeting between two London Olympic teams with a clear 4-1 victory over Belgium.
Australia is the clear favorite at this Electric Ireland Champions Challenge 1 as the seventh-ranked team in the FIH World Ranking and after earning a solid fifth-place finish at the Olympics. The Hockeyroos lived up to their billing with the decisive win over #14-ranked Belgium.
Australia built a two-goal lead in a six-minute span after Jodie Schulz and Casey Eastham got things rolling for the Hockeyroos 20 minutes into action. Schulz easily scored on a penalty corner chance and Eastham followed up with a field goal.
Anna Flannagan needed just two minutes of the second half to extend Australia’s lead to three goals with a penalty corner goal. The Aussies dominated the action for much of the half, and only had one letdown when they gave Belgium a short corner chance which Emilie Sinia converted to spoil the shutout. The goal did little to alter the result as Australian captain Madonna Blythe restored the three-goal lead with just over two minutes left in the game to bring the final to 4-1.
Today’s wins for Ireland and India, put the two teams atop the standings with three points each and both holding a +3 goal advantage. Belgium and Wales are at the bottom of the standings, with no points after losing their first outing.
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