Photo(© Wolfgang Sternberger)
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Only one semi final place remains vacant at the Samsung Hockey World Cup after the Netherlands secured their berth with a crushing win against China in Madrid today.
The Netherlands appear to have hit form at exactly the right time with their five-goal victory ensuring they will participate in their 11th World Cup semi final from 12 attempts. They only time they have missed a spot in the top four was in 1994 when they finished sixth in Dublin.
The Dutch victory was an impressive result in all aspects, and with a perfect four wins from as many matches, they have demonstrated their undeniable claims for the title.
Sylvia Karres and Kim Lammers scored hat tricks (including two in the space of a minute) as the Netherlands recorded the biggest victory of the tournament to ensure they finish the round matches in top spot in Pool A.
The Netherlands were irresistible inside their attacking zone, with Karres scoring the first three goals of the match ÔÇô all from deflections ÔÇô before Lammers followed suit with a trio of second half strikes as China could do little to stem the flow.
China's disappointing World Cup continued they will now certainly playoff for positions 9-12, a shock outcome for a team that is ranked fifth and reached the Champions Trophy final less than three months ago.
They have never reached the same level of play in Madrid that they achieved in Amsterdam and will now miss the next Champions Trophy tournament in Argentina in January as a result of their poor showing.
Netherlands coach Marc Lammers said the match unfolded exactly as he had expected, with China's position on the table forcing them to attack which in turn created space for the Dutch.
He said that being the tournament favourites didn't affect his team and that they would prepare for the semi final the same regardless of the expectations placed upon them.
While the Netherlands are assured of a place in the final four, the remaining Pool A qualifier will not be settled until tomorrow, when England and Spain square off in a winner-take-all showdown.
Spain's victory today against India means that a draw will be enough for them to advance to an unexpected semi final appearance, a great achievement for a team ranked number 10 in the world.
Built on a defensive mind set, they have been able to grind out important results throughout the pool phase and are within reach of their first semi final berth since the inaugural World Cup (de Josselin de Jong Cup) in Barcelona in 1972.
They were more attacking against India today as the space afforded by the opponents gave them the chance to spread the ball and earn a number of penalty corners.
In the opening match today, England played themselves into a strong position with a hard-fought win against Germany that also eliminated the Olympic champions from title contention.
The winning goal came through a Helen Richardson penalty stroke to leave England just 70 minutes from the first World Cup semi final since 1990.
England coach Danny Kerry said he was extremely pleased with the composure shown by his defenders when Germany tries to press them into specific areas of the pitch.
It's a quality that England will probably not encounter a lot against Spain however, with the home team content to sit, defend and then counter attack so far in the tournament.
Germany coach Markus Weise said he disappointed with the result but not with the effort of his team, who he believed created more attacking chances than England.
He likened the match to Germany opening day loss to Spain, when the reigning Olympic and Champions Trophy title holders were upset by a team that defended well and limited their scoring options.
A full round of matches is scheduled tomorrow to complete the round phase. Although only one semi final place remains, there is still a lot of interest and importance in the lower positions in Pool B, with just two points separating the bottom four teams.