On the final day of the WorldHockey Olympic Qualifier in Kazan, Russia, tournament favorite USA defeated Belgium to take the second-but-last available place in the women's Olympic tournament, the Netherlands Antilles fought their way past India to claim bronze, and Russia slipped past France for fifth place. This is the first time since Seoul 1988 that the US women participate in an Olympic hockey tournament when not the host nation.
USA 3 v Belgium 1
In a fiercely contested final here in Kazan, the USA started off tentatively, seemingly letting Belgium play the first few minutes before moving in to take charge. Increasing pressure slowly but steadily, the USA moved onto the scoreboard in the 18th minute, when Kayla Bashore deflected a Kelly Doton penalty corner hit into the net.
Belgium stepped up to the challenge, and sank a penalty corner of their own little later when Anne-Sophie van Regemortel converted the Belgians second short corner of the match with a cracking banana shot. The USA remained confident and unimpressed however, and quickly restored the lead through Tiffany Snow, who tapped a great Kate Barber pass across the face of the goal over the line for her sixth goal of the tournament, a goal that would also earn her the title as Topscorer of the Tournament.
Coming back freshly motivated after the break, the game was hotly disputed, an exciting clash between equal rivals. But as time wore on, the USA gained ground on Belgium, in part due to their superior physical fitness, and with twelve minutes to go, a great goal from the USA's captain Kate Barber settled the match. Barber made her way into the circle from the right, launching a shot from a narrow angle that beat soon-to-be Goalkeeper of the Tournament Elizabeth Achten, inexplicably passing beneath her.
The clock kept ticking down, and Belgium attacked with increasing desperation, but there was no way past the Americans today. The USA soon contented themselves with defending their lead rather than attacking, and just let time pass.
After 70 minutes, the siren soundsed and the USA had pocketed their ticket to Beijing, a fair ending to this tournament, as the arguably best side in the event, who have competed consistently at the highest level here in Kazan, picked up the grand prize.
The USA thus join Australia and New Zealand, Germany, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Spain, Argentina, South Africa, China and Japan in the Beijing Olympic hockey tournament. The one remaining vacancy to complete the 12 team roster will be filled with the winner of the last WorldHockey Olympic Qualifier, held in Victoria, Canada, and started yesterday.
Netherlands Antilles 2 v India 1
Earlier in the day, the Netherlands Antilles had defeated India for the bronze medal in the event in a rollercoaster encounter.
India controlled the first 35 minutes of the match, confronted with a halfhearted and listless Antillean side, but had difficulty creating opportunities, and took until late in the first half to get on the scoreboard, which eventually happened thanks to Rajwinder Kaur, who converted a penalty corner.
After the break, the Netherlands Antilles awakened slowly but surely, taking over the steering wheel. After wasting a few must-score chances, it was team captain Ernestina Schreuder who scored for the Antilles, deflecting a penalty corner for her first goal of the tournament, thus forcing the match into extra time.
Extra time than lasted for all of two and a half minutes, as with what was more or less their first attack in extra time, the Netherlands Antilles won a penalty corner which Theresia Noorlander sank with a cracking hit. The golden goal assured the Antilles third place, confining India to fourth with the exact same result as in their group stage game.
Russia 2 v France 1
In the match for fifth place, the Russian hosts met France. Russia dominated play from the start, with play confined to the French half of the field for long stretches of time, and the Russian side creating scores of chances.
It took them 28 minutes however to score their first, until Svetlana Grigorieva made good use of a clever Marina Dudko pass, tapping the ball over the line from close range. France immediately replied however, their first shot on goal a winner, when Philippine Berly put a penalty corner away five minutes later.
Riding high on the boost of confidence from their goal, France looked dangerous for a while, even more so than their opponents, but execution proved to be the problem, with France's young players too anxious and too impatient to take advantage of their opportunities.
A quick break earned Russia a penalty corner midway through the second half. Olga Shentsova deflected a hit from Anna Guteneva over French goalkeeper Marion Rheby for what was to be the winning goal, and the home team never looked back.
The match soon turned hectic, both sides losing discipline and concentration, the number of individual mistakes soaring, but Russia managed to hold on to their lead, and celebrated their eventual victory with a great measure of relief. It was an up-and-down match, with a sturm und drang period of the French around the break, but overall, Russia were the better team today, had more opportunities, and won deservedly.
Individual awards were handed to Elizabeth Achten of Belgium as Best Goalkeeper, Americans Tiffany Snow as Topscorer and Rachel Dawson as Best Player of the Tournament, and 14-year-old Rani Devi from India as Most Promising Young Player of the Tournament.
WorldHockey Olympic Qualifier, Kazan - Final Standings
4. Netherlands Antilles