Murukami strikes golden goal; USA trounce Scotland to set up final showdown with Japan

Electric Ireland FIH Champions Challenge I, semi-final
Japan 3 (Rika Komazawa 2, Ai Murukami) Spain 2 (Berta Bonastre, Rocio Ybarra)

Ai Murukami’s golden goal propelled Japan into the Champions Challenge final, eventually putting paid to dogged Spanish resistance in the final minute of the first half of extra time.

The Spaniards had looked on course to go through to the final when two goals in four minutes to lead going into the final quarter. But their discipline got them into all manner of bother, twice reduced to nine players as they racked up 14 minutes worth of suspensions.

With Andrea Puig and Anabel Flores both yellow carded in the closing stages, Japan nicked in to force extra time when Rika Komazawa showed excellent persistence to tie the game up with three minutes to go.

And the Asian side dominated extra time, three times going close before Murukami dragged home their third penalty corner of extra-time.

Early on, Japan had made much of the running, probing Spain’s trademark defensive setup with Shiho Otsuka and Yukari Yamamoto using their guile.

They got on the board in the eighth minute courtesy of a splendid advantage played by umpire Lesley Pieterse as Miyuki Nakagawa raced down the right only for her push across goal to loop up dangerously. Spain could not clear but Komazawa kept her eye on it to bat in.

Spain’s best moments came from their corners, Bonastre and Huertas going close but they got level in stunning style midway through the second period when Bonastre raced in from the right wing, drifted left before unleashing a reverse which deceived Sakiyo Asano.

And they grabbed the lead soon after when Rocio Ybarra’s swept corner shot took a wicked deflection up and over Asano for 2-1.

But Japan piled forward in the closing stages and got their reward when Yamamoto stormed into the circle. Munoz intercepted but dithered and Komazawa stole the ball off her and forced the ball in. It earned an extra-time shot and Murukami took the bull by the horns to kickstart jubilant celebrations.

USA 3 (Paige Selenski, Caroline Nichols, Melissa Gonzalez) Scotland 0
A comprehensive victory for the US as they continue to leave their indifferent group stage form behind, picking off Scotland to back up their strong win over Ireland two days ago.

They will play Japan in Sunday’s final as a result, a repeat of the opening game of the tournament in which the Asian side won out 2-1.

Scotland held on for as long as they could, soaking up huge pressure with Abi Walker pulling off a string of saves while Emily Maguire was outstanding once more, notably taking one off the line to maintain parity. But once the Americans broke the deadlock, there was little turning back.

Michelle Cesan created that first goal in the 44th minute, a bull-dozing run which might have yielded a corner but, as she shipped a tackle, she laid off to Paige Selenski who slid the ball across the goal from a narrow angle on the left and it went in off the post.

Katie O’Donnell again was in inspired form and her steal on Catriona Forrest in the D opened the door for the second eleven minutes from time.

Walker saved initially before Selenski cracked goalwards only to be denied by Maguire’s foot. Caroline Nichols found the top corner with her ensuing penalty stroke.

And Melissa Gonzalez completed the win with a super third goal. O’Donnell was the instigator once more, racing down the right byeline before laying up into Gonzalez’s path and she dived full length to sweep home first time.

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