The two top ranked nations in Pool B faltered on day three at the women’s Samsung Hockey World Cup Qualifier in Rome to ensure that the competition is evenly balanced with three matches still to be played before the classification rounds.
On a low scoring day overall – just two goals were converted in three matches - New Zealand (seeded second) and Korea (third) had a chance to jump clear of those closest to them on the Pool B points table, but both stumbled and allowed the chasing teams to close the gap.
In the first match, USA scored a goal with 13 minutes remaining to upset New Zealand and confirm their genuine claims for a top two finish in the Pool.
USA welcomed the return of 26-year-old midfielder Carrie Lingo back to the international stage after almost 12 months on the sideline and she made an immediate impact by scoring the winning goal from close range after a cross from the right in the 57th minute.
New Zealand had enough chances to equalise towards the end of the match, but four penalty corners in the final eight minutes were denied by the USA defence, including a save from goalkeeper Amy Tran after Black Sticks captain Suzie Muirhead shot from point blank range near the left post.
For a scoreless draw, the match between Korea and Ireland was an entertaining contest, with a number of scoring chances and attractive passages of play.
A missed penalty stroke, an inability to convert a clutch of penalty corners opportunities and a spirited Ireland squad were the main factors behind Korea’s failure to capitalise on a host of chances to move into a dominant position in the pool.
While heavy rain delayed the start of the match and might have washed away the goal scoring ability of both teams, it definitely didn’t dampen the Irish willingness to chase and harass their opponents.
Ireland weren’t on the back foot for the entire clash however, with a handful of chances, particularly in the first half helping to boost their confidence in a meeting against a team rated six places above them on the Sahara WorldHockey Team Rankings.
Korea’s best chance for victory came with a 42nd minute penalty stroke but Jung Hee Kim flicked weakly wide of the right post to the relief of the large contingent of Irish supporters.
In the final match of the night, home team Italy recorded their first victory of the tournament with a penalty corner goal in the first 10 minutes enough to quell the challenge of Azerbaijan.
After two rounds of matches, Pool B could hardly be closer, with just two points separating the top five teams.
Korea and USA head the list on four points, followed by New Zealand and Italy on three. Ireland sits a further point back on two, while Azerbaijan is at the foot of the table, winless after two matches.
Pool A returns to action tomorrow, with Scotland facing Japan, England meeting France and Ukraine clashing with China. A win for Japan and England would take them to the verge of qualification for the Samsung Hockey World Cup with two matches still remaining to secure their berth in Madrid.
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