14th January 2017: A fantastic afternoon and evening of hockey here in Lisbon, as the stakes got higher, the players raised their games to meet them! Two very different semi-finals, as Russia and Austria drew and a dramatic shoot-out which Austria won was followed by an incredibly tactical, technical game as Poland took 25 minutes to find a crack in the Belarussian defence and then dominated to win 4-0.

First up we had the Pool C (relegation pool) games, Switzerland, Portugal, Croatia and Czech Republic battled it out to see who would be staying in the Championship division and who would be leaving.

Pool C: Switzerland v Portugal 9-1 (3-0) 

Switzerland, buoyed on from their earlier win v Croatia dominated the game from the start, whilst the hosts were still smarting from their 14-1 defeat to semi-finalists Russia.

Scoring came aplenty from the Swiss side with Nick Schwehr scoring a notable 4 goals. Portugal never featured in the game, finding the pace too much. Just before the end Vasco Ribeiro scored Porugal’s first and only goal of the game. The score finished 9-1 in favour of the Swiss.

Pool C: Croatia v Czech Republic 6-5 (4-2) 

The second Pool C game of the day was a different matter as both teams were equal in power, attaching tactics and with some heroic defending. Both teams exchanged scores in the second minute of the game. Croatia then went ahead via an amazing goal that started in their own D. Anze Fuijs broke free and flicked on the run, pushing ahead 2-1. Minutes later he roofed a flick from the top of the D to bring the score to 3-1. Czech kept attaching and earned a penalty stroke which Lukas Plochy scored. Just before the break Croatia extended their lead again to 4-2 and that’s how the teams left the field at the break. An incredible second half as Czech pressed hard to level the score and did via Tomes and Zuna but FUJS scored from a pc, a rocket into the top corner, the score now 5-4 to Croatia. In the last 10 minutes the teams both scored again, with the final score in favour of the Croatians 6-5, which sees them sitting top of Pool C overnight with one game to play tomorrow.

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Semi-Final 1 : Austria v Russia 3-3 2-1 Shoot Out 

As expected we were treated to some wonderful skill and intuitive tactics in the first of the 2 semi-finals. Russia opened the scoring via NADYRSHIN  in the second minute. Steyrer equalised via an impressive drag flick from a corner. Russia’s number 7 LEPESHKIN restored the lead in style from open play as he seemed to glide past the Austria defence. A lead that the Russian’s retained into the half time break. A fiesty second half saw Lepeshkin once again on the scoresheet right into the bottom corner. With 3-1 on the scoresheet Russia looked in control of the game, but Austria’s Abel fired one home with 5 on the clock and then Binder scored from an impossible angle to level the score 3-3. The game went to shoot-out which either team could have won, but Austria’s keeper Glaser made the vital reverse stick save to secure the win and a final place for Austria. The current Champions have certainly grown in stature throughout the event and have improved with every game.

Semi-Final 2 Poland v Belarus 

A cagey start to 2 very well matched teams saw plenty of excellent tactical hockey if not too many highlights in the first half of second semi-final.

The second half began as the first half had ended with neither side making errors and with exceptional control and patience. The smallest of errors saw Poland break the deadlock as SUDOL  slipped past his marker making himself free to slot home a perfect pass from JANICKI. Poland dominated the play for the next 10 minutes with GRUSZCZYNSKI getting 2, one rocket from a corner and his second from close range to bring the score to 3-0. A 4th in the 39th minute, again from play, from MAZANY secured the win for Poland and a repeat of the Final in Torun in 2015 as Poland will try to get their revenge on Austria!

The line-up for tomorrow is:

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Main photograph: Poland celebrate making the Final (Frank Uijlenbroek (c))