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With a place at the FIH Olympic qualifiers already guaranteed for Canada and Spain, the final match of the entire FIH Series Finals competition could have fizzled out into a tame affair. But this was far from the case as both teams gave their all to finish their campaigns in winning style.
In the end, the host nation and top-ranked team were the stronger side on the day and, although Canada continued to impress with their strength, speed and tactical nous, it was Adrian Lock’s team that created the chances and capitalised on them to take first place.
Canada will take consolation from the fact that they picked up two of the four individual awards – top scorer and young player – and they will have shifted significantly up the FIH World Rankings when they are announced.
In the match for third place, Italy were the stronger side on the day and emerged as convincing winners over a South Africa team that had given its all the previous day.
Italy v South Africa
With the two teams so closely matched in the FIH World Rankings and both teams still hurting from their respective losses to Canada and Spain in the semi-finals the previous day, this match between Italy (WR:17) and South Africa (WT:15) was always going to be a hard-hitting encounter.
In the early exchanges, captain Chiara Tiddi was magnificent in the Italian midfield, striding the length of the pitch, distributing the ball when her team were in attack and mopping up anything that came near her.
Both teams had early chances to take the lead, but a penalty corner apiece came to nothing. Towards the end of the quarter a beautifully weighted ball from Kirsten Paton found Nomnikelo Veto with only the Italian goalkeeper to beat but Natalia Schinoni stood up and held the South African striker at bay until her defence arrived.
It was the Italian ‘keeper who kept her side in the match in the first half as South Africa fired in some fierce penalty corner shots. Her counterpart, Phumelela Mbande, also had her chance to demonstrate her excellent reactions when she pulled off a save late in the second quarter.
The very hot temperature was taking its toll on the players as they came out for the second half. Both teams play a very physical game and these final 30 minutes of play were going to take a supreme effort by the athletes.
It was Italy who had clearly decided they needed to get a grip on the game in the next 15 minutes and suddenly the game took on a different complexion. Driven on by the ceaseless running of Maryna Vynohradova and ably backed up by Elisabetta Pacella, Italy started to look the more confident side. Pressure was rewarded by three goals in four minutes. The first two came from almost identical penalty corners, with the ball being swept in by first Giuliana Ruggieri and then Lara Oviedo. The third goal was pure class. The move began with the dancing feet of Pacella as she skipped past the South African sticks before passing to Eugenia Bianchi, who had no hesitation shooting past Phumelela.
South Africa got a consolation goal through Taryn Glasby but the disappointment of the previous day, combined with the ferocity of the Italian attack in the second half of the match, had put this game out of the African team’s reach.
“We wanted to prove we were a different team to the one you saw yesterday,” said Italy’s captain Chiara Tiddi. “That is the beauty of tournament hockey, you can put a bad performance behind you and play better the next day.
“It was difficult today because we had run a lot in the match against Canada yesterday, and we had not run smartly. But we put in the effort and once we had scored the first goal, we relaxed. This tournament, and today’s win, is an important step for our team.”
Italy 3, South Africa 1
Umpires: Emma Shelbourn (ENG), Catalina Montesino (CHI).
Canada v Spain
A busy, frenetic and high quality first 15 minutes of the final match of this competition saw Spain take the lead after a devastating turn of speed by Begona Garcia left the opposition trailing in her wake. Marta Segu was on hand to put the ball in the net after Garcia’s initial shot was saved.
Canada came straight back with their own sustained period of pressure and Sara McManus was able to strike a penalty corner with her usual unstoppable force to bring the scores to 1-1.
Spain then took up the mantle with some great attacking play. One attempt at goal hit the post and rebounded to safety but seconds later a mis-hit penalty corner from Clara Ycart saw the ball slip under Kaitlyn William’s foot to give Spain the lead again.
After the quarter break, Canada again brought the scores level. A great run by Kate Wright resulted in a pass that flew past the face of the Spanish goal and Brienne Stairs made no mistake to score her eighth goal of the competition.
In this rapid-fire game, Spain re-took the lead when Lola Riera sent the ball flying into William’s net to make it 3-2.
In the second half, the Spanish side began to take control of the match and Canada looked like a side that had reached the end of their energy levels. A fourth goal was scored from yet another penalty corner, this time by Carmen Cano to give Spain a two goal advantage. This would have been extended further but for a magnificent save by Williams in the Canada goal.
“I am really happy,” said Spain Head Coach Adrian Lock. “We got better through the tournament. We have a few new players so that didn’t help too much and they needed bedding in. But through the tournament we grew and grew and each game got better. The Wales game was a turning point and we took it on from there.
“We take away a lot of things from this tournament. Playing well isn’t always the most important thing, it is about being in the game from start to finish and keep going whatever happens.
“The experience form the World Cup was good. We grew as a team and realised we could find solutions for every problem. We have learnt a lot since the World Cup but we have kept applying the things we learnt in London.”
Canada 2, Spain 4
Umpires: Mercedes Sanchez (ARG), Fanneke Alkemade (NED),
Best Player: Georgina Oliva (ESP)
Best Goalkeeper: Rose Thomas (WAL)
Young Player: Anna Mollenhauer (CAN)
Top Goal Scorer: Brienne Stairs (CAN) 8 goals.