England and Japan have taken the initiative in Pool A with their second straight win on day two of the Samsung Hockey World Cup Qualifier in Rome.
A last-minute penalty corner goal to Helen Richardson gave England a vital win against top seeds China in a match likely to have a major bearing on the identity of the qualifiers from Pool A.
After China stole an early lead, England recovered and proceeded to set the tempo of the match before the Richardson’s well-crafted goal gave them fitting reward for their impressive performance.
With one of their biggest obstacles out of the way, England are now favoured to take one of the top two spots in Pool A and with it a berth at the Samsung Hockey World Cup in Madrid later this year. They face France on Friday and a victory will take them to the brink of qualification.
Japan sits atop Pool A ahead of England on goal difference after dispatching a determined Ukraine in the second match of the day.
Although they had a significant advantage in territory and possession for most of the contest, loose Japanese defence after the break allowed Ukraine into the match, with only inefficiency in front of goal denying the underdogs the lead in a frantic opening to the second half.
Fortunately for Japan, they rediscovered their focus and eventually transferred their dominance in general play onto the scoreboard, with Tomomi Komori and Kaori Chiba notching doubles to lift their team into top spot in Pool A.
Ukraine continue to take the pitch without the services of star midfielder Tetyana Kobzenko due to a knee injury.
The absence of the brilliant 29-year-old has robbed Ukraine of most of their playing-making ability and without her inspiration, they face a tough battle to make it into the playoffs for fifth place despite their determination and willingness to compete.
In the late match, France produced a storming second half to overwhelm Scotland and snatch a surprise victory. They are now level with China on three points and in a good position to at least finish in the top four of Pool A.
While the top two in each pool after the completion of the round phase will earn a place at the World Cup, the third and fourth placed teams are still in with a chance via the fifth place playoff over the last three days of the tournament.
The second round of matches in Pool B will be held tomorrow, with New Zealand and USA to meet in the opening match, followed by Korea and Ireland.
A win to the Black Sticks and Korea would open a significant gap between them and the chasing pack and put them in a great position to take complete control of the pool.
Despite opening with a win yesterday, New Zealand’s campaign suffered a blow with striker Kayla Sharland suffering a knee injury in the opening minutes of their clash against Azerbaijan.
The injury rules Sharland out for the remainder of the tournament, with the 20-year-old the second New Zealand striker to fall to injury while the squad has been in Rome.
Honor Dillon broke her hand just days before the tournament, but fortunately for the Black Sticks, they were able to draft Niniwa Roberts into the squad in her place. However Sharland cannot be replaced because her injury came after the tournament had started.
The first match on day three starts at 15:30 local time.
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