Belarus 5, Czech Republic 1 (halftime 1-0)
It took more than a day, but in the end Belarus earned its second win of the Hockey World League Round 2 tournament in Valencia, Spain with a 5-1 victory over the Czech Republic. Just over 24 minutes of the game was played yesterday under very soggy conditions before the match had to be suspended, setting up today’s conclusion.
Belarus held a 1-0 lead at the end of yesterday’s play as they seemed to adapt to the wet pitch faster than the Czechs before the game was called. Ryta Batura scored the lone marker of the day for #21 Belarus. Today’s action opened up with the Czechs playing better hockey in the drier conditions.
Belarus failed to capitalize on a handful of penalty corner chances, giving the Czechs space to work their way into the game. Adela Bizova gave the Czechs hope when she struck with the 1-1 goal with 25 minutes left in the second half. But the celebration was short-lived as Batura, celebrating her 26th birthday, stepped up and fired in her second goal of the game five minutes later to restore the one-goal lead.
Belarus’ Yuliya Mikheichyk sealed the win with two goals coming five minutes single digits left on the clock to put any thought of an upset out the Czechs’ minds. Captain Alisia Piotukh got in on the fun as she scooped a blooper penalty corner goal in the net in the last minute of play. The goals powered Belarus through to the 4-1 win, a deceivingly lopsided score for a well-fought game by the Czechs.
Belarus, which entered the tournament as the four-seeded team among the five entrants, now sits surprisingly atop the standings with seven points in three games. But the field is very close in this one with both Spain and Ireland nipping at the heels of Belarus. Italy is also in the hunt for a top finish, while only the Czech Republic is out of contention with three losses in three outings.
Italy 1, Spain 1 (shootout 3-4; halftime 0-0)
Two World Ranking points separate #15 Spain and #17 Italy and it was clear today that two teams are very much on par with each other as they battled to a 1-1 draw that had to be settled in a shootout which Spain won 4-3. The game was critical in the standings with Italy holding two points after playing one game and Spain sitting with three. The win bumps Spain now into second place in the standings and improves their chances for making a push for the Hockey World League Semi-Finals.
With only the top two finishers from Valencia moving onto the next round, and a very competitive field, today’s game between Italy and Spain had a lot riding on it. It was clear from a tentative first half that both teams wanted to error on the side of caution. The biggest chance came midway through the first half when Spain was awarded a penalty stroke. But Italian goalkeeper Martin Chirico came up with a big pad save on the try and kept the scoreboard sitting on zeros through the end of the first half.
In the second half, it was Italy with the better chances, but they kept missing the mark by mere inches – allowing the Spanish to stay in the hunt for the precious points. Italy’s persistence finally paid off in the form of a penalty stroke Giulia Padalino did what Spain failed to do in the first half and easily hit the low corner for the 1-0 lead with 18 minutes left in the game.
Spain sparked to life after the goal and after missing two consecutive penalty corner chances Rocio Ybarra Solaijn scooped a shot into the net for the 1-1 equalizer with six minutes left in the game. The 1-1 deadlock stood through regulation sending the game into a shootout. The shootout went seven rounds, as the teams were event to the bitter end.
Italy will take on winless Czech Republic tomorrow in a game that they should win if they want to stay in contention for a top-two finish. Meanwhile, Spain has a tough test against top-seeded Ireland, who was a big favorite entering the tournament, but sputtered in a loss on Monday against Belarus.
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