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The Netherlands and Australia will play in the final of the Samsung Hockey World Cup after a pair of vastly different semi finals in Madrid.
The Dutch had a relatively straight forward two-goal victory over Argentina, Australia’s win could not have been more extraordinary.
While a golden goal was need to separate the Hockeyroos and home team Spain, it was not the most remarkable incident in the match; that came as the full time siren sounded when the pitch was plunged into darkness after a power failure just as Spain had been awarded a penalty corner to win the match and advance to the final.
For almost 15 minutes the pitch was in darkness with players forced to the sideline as technicians worked to restore lighting after someone had apparently deliberately turn off the power to the venue’s floodlights.
When play resumed, Australia survived to force extra time, which they then converted into victory with Suzie Faulkner’s diving deflection less than two minutes into the sudden death period.
Neither team could produce the winner in regulation time with Australia the more adventurous team but unable to breach a Spanish defence that had proved a stubborn combination all tournament.
Earlier, the Netherlands qualified for their third straight World Cup final after accounting for defending champions Argentina in a more regulation victory.
The Netherlands efficiency inside the attacking circle was the difference in their semi final against Argentina, with the world number one’s clinical conversion too good for their opponents to match.
The most important period in the match came just after half time with Argentina trailing by a goal. After having an appeal for a penalty stroke turned down, the conceded a goal from loose marking to fall two behind.
Then, when Kim Lammers scored the Netherlands’ third goal with a brilliant deflection through her legs with her back towards goal, the match was won despite a late Argentinean rally that produced one goal.
Argentina’s penalty corner battery had been the most efficient in the tournament prior to the match but faltered dramatically under pressure with a number of opportunities failing to produce a shot at goal.
Argentina’s performance today was reflection of their inconsistent form all year and doubt exists about the playing future of several highly experienced squad members.
It will be the third meeting between The Netherlands and Australia in the World Cup final with the score even at 1-1 after the Hockeyroos claimed the 1998 title and the Dutch in 1990.
The Dutch also have an opportunity to avenge losses in their previous two World Cup finals after falling one step short in 1998 and 2002.
In the 5-8 classification matches, Japan and USA recorded huge wins in the context of their history to book a place in the fifth place playoff tomorrow.
Ranked eighth and 12th in the world respectively, both teams have already exceeded the expectations of many with a resilient attitude and an ability to win tight matches when the pressure is at its highest.
Japan and USA’s victories not only enable them to playoff for fifth position, but it will also provide the winner of the match a place at the 2007 Champions Trophy in January next year.
A Japan victory will give them their first ever Champions Trophy, while USA have tasted action at the elite six-team event only once (a third place finish in 1995).
USA were controlled and assured in their play for the majority of the match and as they did against Korea two days ago, pounced on their chance and then held Germany at bay
Germany played as they had for most of the tournament; without confidence or direction that allowed their opponents to assume control.
After coming within a whisker of making the semi finals, England can now only finish as high as seventh after finding it impossible to unlock the Japanese defence.
Japan are already assured of equalling their best finish at a World Cup after placing sixth at the 1978 World Cup, coincidentally also in Madrid.
After winning the World Cup Qualifier in April, they had aims to finish in top six in Madrid, but have been overtaken by Spain, Japan and USA in the list of teams in the final placing at the World Cup.
In the 9-12 classifications, both China and Korea scored heavily in the first half before coasting to victory to set up a showdown for ninth place on Sunday.
Neither team was particularly troubled by their opponent although China were outplayed by South Africa in the second half without suffering on the scoreboard.
Tomorrow is reserved for the lower ranked playoffs, although USA’s clash with Japan to decide fifth position is an extremely important match for both teams given the reward for the winner.
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