The semi-finals are looming for the four teams who prevailed in Thursday’s quarter-finals and, in a tournament that has already thrown up some surprise results, there is every chance that more upsets are on the cards.
With all the winners of the quarter-finals coming from pool B, the four teams have already faced each other once, but the results really give little away, so close were those games.
The winner of Champions Challenge 1 will qualify for the prestigious Champions Trophy – to be held in London in 2016 – and will also pick up valuable world ranking points. Desperate to win a tournament outside the continent of Africa is the South African team. Shelley Russell scored the goal that put the team through and she said: “We are super excited, but we will stay calm and composed and follow our game-plan. This is the first quarter-final we have won.”
South Africa’s rivals will be Ireland, the team that dramatically beat Korea in the quarter-finals. The first semi-final is likely to be a lively affair as both teams play attacking hockey, and are prone to swing from brilliant to erratic within a few minutes. The winner is likely to be the team that can maintain its composure to the end. In the pool game the score finished 2-2.
In the second semi-final, it is a re-match between Spain and the USA. In the pool round this match finished 3-1 in favour of USA, but Spain have been improving with every game. The Spain coach is Adrian Lock and he says that his team needs international experience to improve. “We are a team that is improving, but to continue to do that we need to play games and get international experience. Each match here has seen us get better and we are on a steep learning curve at the moment.”
Craig Parnham’s USA team has started every game at a breakneck speed and rely heavily on the fitness and athleticism of its players. They have had mixed results, and from the evidence here it would seem that while they are in the driving seat they play well, but are prone to lose their composure if the game plan is not working. However, as they showed against India, the USA are a team that are capable of grinding out a result even if they cannot play their style.
So whatever happens there will be a European team in the Final of the Champions Challenge!
In the other matches for 5th-8th place, Korea take on Scotland at 09:00, while Belgium face India at 11.15.
Photograph: SHU/Duncan Gray (c)