Scots join semi-final party; Mitsuhashi guides Japan; Spanish steal golden semi-final place

Electric Ireland FIH Champions Challenge I, quarter-finals
Scotland 3 (Ailsa Wylie, Holly Cram, Ali Bell) Azerbaijan 2 (Khatira Aliyeva, Eunyoung Jhoi)
cotland overcame an ill-disciplined Azerbaijan to become the first side to back up their group stage form with a knock-out victory and take the third place in Saturday’s semi-finals.

Ailsa Wylie and Ali Bell – with the first and third goals – were both on the mark while the eastern European side were down players; the latter’s super strike proving the eventual decider.

With the free-running Nikki Kidd, Holly Cram and powerful Laura Bartlett holding sway, it was a merited outcome as Scotland continued their fine tournament to date.

Khatira Aliyeva’s third corner goal of the tournament pushed the Azeris into a ninth minute lead but a string of green cards saw the goalscorer, Yoon-Seon Kim and Boram Kim all suspended for two minutes each for a variety of offences in the first 15 minutes.

Playing only with 15 players following Emine Muzafforova’s disqualification, falling foul of video evidence for an off-the-ball incident in their pool game against Spain.

The latter pair were both off when Scotland began their corner count and from their second, Ailsa Wylie completed a textbook move back to the injector.

And her side hit the front from another corner nine minutes into the second period. Kidd’s drag-flick wreaked havoc with Bell pouncing and Cram getting the final touch for 2-1.

Scotland were thoroughly in control at this point and, with Gurbanova now in the bin for a yellow, Bartlett strode forward and lifted a knee-high shot goalward. It might have been slipping by the left post but Bell stuck out a stick to nudge the ball over the pads of Victoriya Shahbazova.

The Azeri keeper had been supreme all game, keeping her side in the tie and they had a big lifeline when Eunyoung Jhoi got one back soon after, making it 2-3 despite being down to ten players.

It came from a loose defensive pass which led to a penalty corner. Aliyeva dragged to the right post where Jhoi got a touch. It made for nervy moments for the Scottish crowd but their side were the more likely to score again, though in the end it was not necessary.

Japan 1 (Aki Mitsuhashi) India 0
Aki Mitsuhashi’s goal six minutes from time was the sole divider between the sides as Japan shaded their quarter-final tie with India at Belfield, moving on to Saturday’s semi-finals.

Following Spain’s win this morning, they were a second side to overcome a poor group stage – finishing third – to find some of the style which has lifted them to ninth in the world.

They won the corner count 5-1 and played some attractive one-touch hockey and, while general goal-mouth incident was scarce, the game was pleasing on the eye.

Yogita Bali was drawn into action early as Rika Komazawa continued to show her attacking intent while Yukari Yamamoto was unable to control a high bouncing ball when virtually in the goal.

At the far end, Sakiyo Asano was equally vigilant, keeping out Jasjeet Kaur Handa’s drag and bouncing up immediately to deny Saba Anjum. That was the best of India’s attacks as Japan’s defensive vigilance stifled their free running fashion.

And the pressure slowly built in the second half. Mie Nakagawa’s first touch pass was almost converted by Toshie Tsukui in the 55th minute before Ai Mukurami eventually created the winner.

She saw a 50-metre pass to the back post with Mitsuhahshi steaming in from the right touch-line and diving full length to deflect in. India scarcely threatened in the latter stages and the Japanese have salvaged a semi-final spot from a patchy run thus far in Dublin.

Spain 3 (Raquel Huertas, Barbara Malda, Pilar Sanchez) South Africa 2 (Sulette Damons, Pietee Coetzee) on golden goal extra-time
Spain’s corner efficiency saw them steal a semi-final berth, incredibly making it into the last four without winning a game in normal time at four attempts this week.

Their grit to hold out a dominant South Africa carried them through as they offered little from play and got a slice of luck from a contentious corner awarded two minutes from the end of extra time.

They were not about to develop a guilt-complex and Barbara Malda’s sweep found the stick of Pilar Sanchez to redirect home the golden goal. It was their third goal from four set-pieces, punishing South Africa’s inability to turn pressure into points.

Indeed, they were lucky to get as far as extra time, Pietee Coetzee’s 223rd international goal salvaging a second chance two minutes from time, making it 2-2.

Earlier on, the Africans made most of the running throughout and deservedly took the lead when Sulette Damons bundled home at the back post from Jennifer Wilson’s cross-shot from the right, capitalising clinically on a defensive slip.

And they camped in Spanish territory only to be pegged back two minutes before the break. It was a breath-taking corner, Rocio Ybarra’s sweep to the right post seemed under control but Raquel Huertas made her run so late she went almost unnoticed. That was until her full-length dive met the ball in perfect time to redirect home.

The second half followed the same pattern, South Africa creating the play, three times crashing across goal while Coetzee’s bunt wreaked havoc. Dirkie Chamberlain regularly drove at the heart of the Spanish defence but no breakthrough was forthcoming.

And their plight got more desperate when Malda found the direct route to goal with a fine sweep for 2-1 in the 51st minute. With the lead, Spain were content to sit back and make life difficult for SA whose attacks became more ragged. Their lifeline came when Gloria Comerma’s robust tackle copped a penalty corner and a yellow card.

Coetzee snagged the leveller but was sin-binned almost immediately after the tip-off for breaking down play at the Spanish tip-off.

It proved costly as South Africa won a couple of last minute corners but, in Coetzee’s absence, Marescia’s sweeps were dealt with, the second palmed over by Maria Lopez de Eguilaz, ending normal time at 2-2.

Extra time still could not coax the Spanish from their shell, defending regularly with 11 in the 22 until the 83rd minute when Raquel Huertas strode down the right wing.

She hit the deck hard under pressure outside the circle but the award of a penalty corner drew much debate, many suggesting Kathleen Taylor had already dispossessed the winger cleanly. The decision stood and Sanchez proved the heroine for a jubilant Spanish outfit.

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