Defending Olympic champions Belgium made sure they’ll be in Paris to defend their men’s title later this year by winning their semi-final clash with Korea 4-0 at the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers 2024 in Valencia on Friday.
Also booking their Olympic spot were Spain who fought hard for their 2-0 victory over Ireland. Korea and Ireland have one last shot at qualifying – the winner of their bronze-medal playoff earning their place in Paris.
That’s how the Japan women earned their spot – by beating India 1-0 in their bronze-medal match in Ranchi. The Indian women finished fourth at the Tokyo Olympics three years ago but will miss out on the 2024 Games.
The women’s tournament in Ranchi wrapped up with all eyes on the third-place match between hosts India and Japan with the last Paris Olympic qualifying spot up for grabs.
Meanwhile, having already claimed their Olympic berths in the semi-finals, Germany faced the USA in the final.
Japan made a blistering start in a high-paced match against India, opening the scoring in the sixth minute and dominating the first quarter. The middle periods were hotly contested with India gradually gaining the ascendancy. By the fourth quarter Japan were unable to retain any possession and India ran rampant on attack. However, the Japanese somehow hung on for the 1-0 win, claiming third place and with that, a ticket to the Paris Olympics.
An emotional player of the match, Shihori Oikawa, said afterwards: “We are super-happy because today was the last chance for the Paris Olympics and we made it happen. I’m just super-proud of the team… After the first goal we just kept attacking because India is a very strong team so we never stopped attacking, just kept playing and pushing forward.”
Germany came out all guns blazing against the USA in the final with Jette Fleschutz opening the scoring in the third minute. They continued to dominate play throughout the first half, earning 10 penalty corners, adding a second goal, and denying the USA any circle entries. Were it not for Jennifer Rizzo having a fantastic match in goal for the USA, the match would have been wrapped up long before half-time.
The Americans lifted their play in the second half, but couldn’t challenge the Germans and it was up to Kelsy Bing in the USA goal to deny Die Danas a much bigger win. Germany may be leaving Ranchi with the title after the 2-0 win but both teams got what they were looking for in India which was Olympic qualification.
Meanwhile, in the contests for the lower places, it was New Zealand who secured fifth place with a 3-1 win over Italy after a tightly fought contest, while Chile finished seventh after a 1-0 victory over Czechia.
Best player: Nike Lorenz (GER)
Top scorers (4 goals): Charlotte Stapenhorst (GER), Sonja Zimmerman (GER), Jette Fleschϋtz (GER)
Best goalkeeper: Kelsey Bing (USA)
Best junior player: Deepika (IND)
Over in Valencia, the home side, Spain, took on Ireland and Belgium faced off against Korea in the all-important semi-final showdowns with two Olympic places on the line.
It was a nail-biting first half between hosts Spain and the Irish with very few opportunities and both teams keeping things tight. Spain took control in the third quarter with two penalty corner goals, and for all Ireland’s intense pressure in the closing minutes of the match, it wasn’t enough to beat a sublime Luis Calzado in the Spanish goal.
With the 2-0 victory Spain progressed to the final in Valencia and booked their spot in Paris, to continue their proud record of having competed at every Olympic Games since 1960. Ireland must now win their third-place playoff if they are to join the Spanish in the French capital.
Player of the match Rafael Vilallonga said afterwards: “It’s a dream for all of us. It’s amazing to be here and also for the fans to be in Paris with us like today because the atmosphere was pretty good.”
In the other semi-final later in the day, Belgium had to work hard and stay patient throughout the first half against Korea and were rewarded with an opening goal from Tanguy Cosyns just before the break. They continued to control the match in the second half, adding a goal in the third quarter and two scorchers in the fourth to secure a place in the final and book their ticket to the Paris Olympics where they will aim to defend the title they won in Tokyo three years ago. Korea still have a shot at Paris if they can win their third-place playoff against Ireland on Sunday.
A delighted Belgian captain and player of the match, Felix Denayer, who scored the fourth goal to take him to what should be his fifth Olympic Games, said afterwards: “It’s unbelievable, to be honest. Going to the Olympics is something very special. We came here as the favourites but we didn’t have anything in our pocket yet, so now we have the Olympic ticket and now we can really prepare for the big stage in Paris.”
In the playoffs for 5th to 8th place, Egypt were comfortable 5-1 winners over Japan, while Austria came from behind twice against a determined Ukraine side and then prevailed 3-2 in the ensuing shootout.