Day 4 here in Prague saw the final games of the A/B Pools. Coming into the day France and Wales had secured a place in the semis, so there was plenty to play for and some exciting games.
Russia 5-0 Lithuania
With just 2 goals from 22 penalty corners in the first two matches, it finally clicked for Russia today against Lithuania, scoring 5 from 8.
Lithuania held them off well during the first quarter but could not stem the Russian attack and were under constant pressure. Anastasia KOLPAKOVA gave the lead heading into halftime.
Captain SADOVAIA and Alina KHALIMOVA were the finishers for two PCs in the third quarter, and Mariia OVANESOVA and Alina KHALIMOVA on either end of the last quarter made it five.
A difficult round of pool matches for a Lithuanian side who are newcomers in this division and a good win for Russia, their first of the event.
Wales 1-3 Poland
Wales came into this game having already secured their spot in the semis, with Poland needing a win or a draw to advance.
The play in the first quarter was quiet; Wales was organized but not playing with the intensity of previous games. The game moved up a gear in the second quarter when Poland took the lead through Marlena RYBACHA and their opposition began to push more. Isabelle HOWELL pulled one back for the Welsh in the 26th corner to see the sides level going into the break.
A marked increase in intensity during the second half of the match saw both sides creating chances. It was the Polish who capitalized again with a well-managed PC: a strong pass and good last touch from RYBACHA to net her 4th of the event.
The third goal 2 minutes later sealed the win for the Polish. A long pass from deep wasn’t dealt with and a 2v1 on the keeper ensued, with Wiktoria BLASZYK making the scoresheet.
Belarus 2-2 Austria
Krestsina PAPKOVA opened the scoring in the 22nd minute when a fast break by the Belarusians started at their endline and was worked well upfield. Their lead didn’t last long, however, with Austria responding immediately through a well-placed Johanna CZECH penalty corner.
CZECH struck again in the 52nd minute, but Belarus pulled back an equalizer through Natallia SHTSIN in the 59th minute. Austria responded strongly and won a penalty corner in the dying seconds of the match but could not convert.
The win for Belarus put them second in the group and Austria third, with pool toppers France and last-place Czech facing off in the next match, so an anxious 60 minutes awaited both sides to see how the pool would finish.
Czech 0-1 France
France, with two wins under their belt, came into this game with confidence and a semi-final spot already secured. The hosts had put up a strong showing in their first game but a difficult first half yesterday (albeit with a spirited second-half display) against Belarus will have knocked their confidence.
The teams were evenly matched, swapping attacks and periods of possession. It was a quick, clean game, and not many clear-cut scoring chances occurred, the closest was a deflected shot hitting the crossbar at the midway point of the third quarter.
The final quarter saw France looking dangerous, making inroads towards the opposition goal on several occasions and keeping pressure on. This press was rewarded with ten minutes left of the clock, with a turnover and superb piece of individual skill by Yohanna LHOPITAL set it up for Gabrielle VERRIER to slot home.
France kept pushing, but it was the home team who had the final chance, with a PC in the final minutes that was kept out.
Rest day tomorrow!
Coming up on Day 5 (Friday) there’s still all to play for in the Pool C games, with a final spot in October’s World Cup Qualifiers still to be decided. The semi-final matchups are Poland v Belarus and France v Wales