Wednesday, 26 June 2013

USA 1 v 2 China

Tuesday 25th June 2013
Women’s Hockey World League Semi-Finals Pool A
Quintin Hogg Memorial Sports Ground, Chiswick
Admission: £15.00
Programme: £3.00
Attendance: ??
Match Rating: 4

Given a surprising thirst for hockey in the last year by taking in two women’s games at the London 2012 Olympics, as well as a day at the European Hockey League men’s club tournament at East Grinstead last October, I was never going to miss the opportunity to witness more top quality international hockey returning to south-east England.

The World League Semi-Final event, which was originally intended to be held in Germany but was moved to Chiswick due to financial difficulties, was held at the Quentin Hogg Memorial Sports Ground, about a ten minute walk from Chiswick rail station. Part of the large University of Westminster sporting complex, most of the facilities surrounding the hockey pitch were of a temporary nature for this event, with open stands erected along the middle two thirds of one length and behind one of the goals. The other two sides were inaccessible to spectators. Around the ground was a supporters village  with outlets for outrageously priced refreshments – for example £3.00 for a portion of very average chips, or £6.00 for a beefburger – with a row of tents containing shops and a small museum. There was also a “funzone” for younger supporters who could “have a go” at varieties of hockey. Tournament programmes were available, 36 pages in all colour and which was attractively designed and covered the basic details but was a little uninspiring overall.

This event, lasting a week and compromising eight teams, with a similar tournament in Rotterdam hosting eight different international teams to here, serves not only as a qualifying tournament for the final of the World Hockey League in Argentina later in the year, but also the semi-finalists would ensure qualification for the next Women’s World Cup. I bought a ticket for the last day of pool matches, in which I would get to see all eight teams in action during the four games playes.

First up today, with a 12.30 start, was the USA, placed 10th in the World Rankings, against seventh ranked China. In their previous pool matches, USA narrowly lost both games, 0-1 against second ranked Argentina and 1-2 against the lowest ranked team in this event, Italy, although on both occasions the USA conceded in the closing minutes to lose. China beat Italy 2-1 but then lost 2-3 to Argentina.

With the weather occasionally sunny but frequently overcast with a cool stiff breeze, the match soon developed a pattern of China looking the more skilful team but with the USA always looking dangerous whenever they broke forward at pace. Indeed, the USA surprisingly took the lead on 11 minutes, when a ball was played from the right wing across the box, was left by one USA forward but Paige Solenski dived with her stick to prod the ball home from close range. Their lead only lasted three minutes though, when Hongxia Li  tapped in from close range after the ball was pulled back from the byline. 1-1 was how it remained at the interval, a fair reflection on a close and competitive 35 minutes of action.

Into the second half and although the USA had the odd chance to retake the lead, China were looking increasingly dominant in terms of scoring chances, and had a string of penalty corners that they failed to convert. The American goalkeeper, Jackine Kinzer, was having an incredible game, pulling off fantastic save after fantastic save, but with nine minutes remaining, finally China made a penalty corner count when Mengyu Wang struck low into the bottom right hand corner of the goal from the edge of the D. The USA really should have levelled the scores on two occasions within a couple of minutes, first of all a weak clearance from the Chinese keeper was intercepted by Jill Witmer, but she couldn’t make enough space for a decisive shot on goal, and then an open goal from close range was missed by Shannon Taylor. But China held on for a narrow victory and would have to wait until their quarter-final opponents would be. The USA were assured of a bottom placed finish in Pool A, and would be faced of whoever finishes top to Pool B, to be decided later in the day.

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