Azerbaijan 1, Japan 4
Top-seeded Japan now has the upper hand at the Women’s Olympic Qualification Tournament after beating second-seeded Azerbaijan, 4-1, in round robin action. The win gives the Japanese 10 points in four games, and all but books the hosts a place in Saturday’s final. Azerbaijan has nine points and will play Chile on Thursday in a game that will likely determine the second finalist.
In what could be a preview for Saturday’s final, today’s game was a well-balanced affair despite the relatively lopsided 4-1 result. In fact, it was Azerbaijan that spent most of the time in the Japanese zone in the second half, but creating very few meaningful scoring opportunities despite the proximity of the Japan net.
Azerbaijan silenced the crowd when Taejeong Han put a shot into the upper left corner to take a 1-0 lead just six minutes into the game. Six minutes later, Japan’s Ai Murukami easily converted a penalty stroke chance to get Japan on the board and tie the game at one.
The game stayed deadlocked until Miyuki Nakagawa put in the go-ahead goal 11 minutes later. It was one of two goals from Nakagawa, who also scored the only goal of the second half with 12 minutes to go in the game. The other Japanese goal scorer was Sachimi Iawo, who got the key 3-1 goal with eight minutes left in the first half to give Japan some breathing room before the break.
Azerbaijan competed well today, but simply could not finish on the chances that they had. Japan’s finesse and speed were the key to getting back to the top of the round robin standings.
Japan definitely has the easier assignment on the last day of round robin play on Thursday with a meeting against Belarus, which is currently fourth in the standings. Azerbaijan will take on third-place Chile. The Chileans have seven points and with a win on Thursday, could leap ahead of Azerbaijan in the standings.
Malaysia 1, Chile 2
Chile came from out of nowhere to steal a 2-1 win from Malaysia and stay in contention to make Saturday’s final. The Chileans were showing no signs of life when the Caram sisters, Camila and Daniela, struck with a pair of penalty corner goals in the last four minutes of regulation to stage the incredible comeback.
The Malaysians have continued to improve in each game at this qualification tournament and today it looked like they would get the win when Fazilla Slyvester Salin scored the 1-0 goal into the upper corner in the 49th minute in a game with few scoring chances. After the goal, Malaysia dominated the action, allowing Chile very few chances to get near their net.
But in the last five minutes, Chile flew into action with determined play. Camila put in the key game-tying goal with a solid flick and the Chileans seemed content to have saved the point for the tie. But just moments later a second penalty corner was awarded and the alert, frisky Chileans smelled blood. With the clock ticking down Daniela Caram deflected in the game-winner sending her team into a celebrating frenzy.
Chile now has seven points in four games and stands among the top three together with Japan and Azerbaijan. The Chileans have kept everyone at the tournament guessing with their hot and cold play, but so far they are doing what it takes to stay in contention. Meanwhile, Malaysia must be frustrated with giving this one away despite a good showing. The Malaysians are out of the London picture with just one point in four games.
Belarus 5, Austria 0
Belarus earned its second win of the Olympic Qualifier and kept a glimmer of hope alive to make Sunday’s final with a 5-0 win against Austria. The Austrians are still looking for their first point of the tournament.
Belarus put in a solid effort in the first half and steadily built up its lead. At the break, Belarus owned a 3-0 advantage on the strength of three field goals from three different players. Yuliya Kurhanskaya, Yuiliy Mikheichyk and Natalia Stsiafutkina were the goal scorers, but it was Mikheichyk’s 3-0 tally that will make the highlight reel as she rattled it into the far corner five minutes before the break.
Things stalled a bit in the second half. With the game basically decided, Belarus eased the pace and put in two goals in the last two minutes of regulation. Austria fought valiantly to put in its first goal of the tournament, including a huge missed chance when Irene Balek's penalty stroke hit the post, but ultimately, Austria suffered its fourth consecutive shutout.
Belarus now has seven points and with a win over top-seeded Japan on Friday could move up to 10 points to tie Japan, which currently has 10 points. Depending on the outcome of the Azerbaijan vs. Chile game, three teams could end up with at the 10-point mark. Chile currently sits at seven points, and Azerbaijan has nine, making anything possible on the last day of the round robin on Friday.
Austria and Malaysia are out of the London hunt. Malaysia has just one point in four games, while Austria is empty handed.