USA, Spain, Germany and Belgium all secured their places in Paris by winning their respective semi-finals at the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers.
Meanwhile, in Muscat, Germany, New Zealand, Great Britain and Pakistan took one step closer to Paris by booking their places in the semifinals with victories on Thursday.
Here’s the latest…
Ranchi – Women’s qualifying
It was crunch day in Ranchi as two Olympic places were up for grabs for the winning semi-finalists as the USA took on Japan and India faced Germany.
The USA and Japan produced an enthralling match where neither team was able to assert full control. Japan breached the American defence for the first time in the tournament, opening the scoring with a scrappy penalty corner rebound in the third quarter. The USA then fought back in a thrilling final quarter, scoring two penalty corner goals to advance to the final and book their spot at the Paris Olympic Games. Japan can still qualify for Paris by finishing third and will be looking for better accuracy from their penalty corners in their bronze medal match against India.
USA captain Ashley Hoffman said afterwards: “I am without words… It still doesn’t feel real that we’re going to Paris. After not qualifying last time in India, we came and honestly I think we put that to bed… We were just so present this whole tournament and I’m so proud of this group.”
Germany prevailed in a riveting high-paced encounter against the Indian home team. The Germans couldn’t find a goal despite dominating the opening encounters and India struck first with a penalty corner at the end of the first quarter. India carried some momentum into the second period and Germany had to scramble repeatedly before equalising on the stroke of halftime.
It looked as though the Germans were safe when Charlotte Stapenhorst bagged her second goal on 57 minutes but India came back with a penalty corner goal two minutes later. The drama continued in the shootout with the teams still level after five attempts, and it took an audacious finish by Lisa Nolte to give Germany the 4-3 win, sending them on to the final and the Paris Olympics.
An elated Nolte said afterwards: “I’m very happy, I’m so proud of the team, it’s difficult to find the right words. The match wasn’t as good as we expected, it was a tough game, India was a strong opponent and our defence was good but we didn’t use our chances. But in the end, we are the winner, that’s the main thing and I’m so, so proud.”
In the day’s other 5th to 8th place playoff matches in Ranchi, Italy and Chile both enjoyed periods of dominance in an entertaining encounter. Chili scored first but Italy drew level thanks to an Antonella Bruni field goal. The Italians then took the lead through a brilliant individual goal from Federica Carta but Paula Valdivia found the equaliser for Chile to take the match to a shootout where Italy prevailed.
New Zealand did all the playing against Czechia and could easily have notched up a big win, but they failed to convert from 10 penalty corners and the Czechs defended bravely. New Zealand eventually secured the win with two field goals in the final three minutes to advance to the 5th place playoff.
Muscat – Olympic men’s qualifier
Germany were in control throughout in their 3-0 win against Chile. Two penalty corner goals saw them 2-0 up by halftime and Justus Weigand added the third in the final quarter to secure top spot in Group B and a place in the semi-finals.
New Zealand went into their match with Canada assured of advancing to the semi-finals after the result earlier in the day had ended Chile’s hopes. The Black Sticks controlled the match for a comfortable 4-0 win – all their goals coming from open play – to advance to the final four.
Also sealing their spot in the semi-finals were Great Britain who romped home 6-0 in their match against China. Sam Ward celebrated his 100th cap for Great Britain by scoring a brace, with Zachary Wallace also scoring two of the six goals. The result sees the British finishing top of Pool A to keep their Olympic dream alive.
Malaysia came out firing in their must-win encounter against Pakistan. It was a fitting way for Malaysia’s captain Marhan Jalil to mark his 300th cap for the side – in a match that had it all: end-to-end action, moments of genius, sensational strikes, a missed penalty stroke and plenty of late goal-mouth drama. Each time the Malaysians edged in front, Pakistan came back at them – coming from behind three times and eventually securing the 3-3 draw which was enough to see them through to the semi-finals after finishing second in Pool A.
Pakistan will come up against world champions Germany in their semi-final encounter on Saturday while Great Britain will take on New Zealand.