Spain and India started the FIH Nations Cup as the two prohibitive favourites for the title and they edged past their opponents in the semifinals, to set up a mouthwatering clash in the finals on Saturday with the title and the opportunity to qualify for the FIH Hockey Pro League 2023-24 up for grabs.
The FIH Hockey Nations Cup features the best eight teams (by world rankings) that are not a part of the FIH Hockey Pro League, in both men’s and women’s competitions. The eight teams are split into two pools of four teams each, with the top two teams in each pool proceeding to the semi-finals and beyond. The first placed team in the FIH Hockey Nations Cup will replace the bottom placed team in the FIH Hockey Pro League in the subsequent year
Spain won the first semifinal of the day, withstanding incredible pressure on their goal, but holding firm to narrowly defeat Japan 1-0, making it 4 straight hours of hockey played in the FIH Nations Cup without conceding a goal.
India then played Ireland in the second semifinal and trailed for much of the game, despite dominating possession and territory, as Elizabeth Murphy had a stellar game in the Irish goal. India finally managed to find a late breakthrough that sent the game into the penalty shoot-outs where captain Savita Punia showed why she is rated so highly in the world of hockey, by limiting Ireland to just 1 goal from 5 shoot-out attempts, to seal India’s spot in the finals.
The title clash takes place on Saturday at 8.15 pm IST.
Semi-final 1: Spain vs Japan 1-0
Spain came into the semifinals clash against Japan as the favorites having shown great form throughout the tournament, especially in defense, having not conceded a single goal through the group stages. They kept up their incredible defensive run, shutting out Japan and winning a closely fought contest 1-0.
Spain started the game on the front foot and got the goal they were looking for through Sara Barrios. The drive through the Japanese defense by Florencia Amundson was crucial in setting up the scoring opportunity for Barrios.
After getting the goal however, Spain played the rest of the game slightly on the back foot, maintaining their defensive structure, and seeking out counter-attacking opportunities. Japan grew into the game more and more as they looked for an equalizer, but Spain’s discipline in defense was incredible once again, as not only did they stop every Japanese attempt at getting a shot on target, they also managed to withstand all the pressure without conceding a single penalty corner throughout the game.
Sara Barrios was awarded the player of the match and said: “Our defense has been really good throughout the tournament and we did well again today. For the finals I think we will once again rely on staying strong defensively and I am sure more goals will come.”
Semifinal 2: India vs Ireland 1-1 (Shoot-out: India 2-1 Ireland)
India came into the semifinals on a 3-game winning streak. But they were pushed to the limit in a thriller, managing to edge out Ireland in a closely fought encounter, that required penalty shoot-outs to separate the two teams.
India were the dominant team in terms of possession and territory throughout the game, but for much of the game Ireland were the team in the lead, which they grabbed from their first counter attacking opportunity, in the dying seconds of the first quarter. India kept pushing in search of an equalizer as the game was played primarily in the Irish half, but their keeper Elizabeth Murphy was in outstanding form, pulling off one incredible save after another to deny India.
India received 11 penalty corners in the game, but Murphy managed to pull off save after save to deny them, with some flicks from Gurjit Kaur seeming destined to disturb the net until Murphy’s stick pushed the ball away in the very last second. Murphy was finally beaten in the 45th minute from a penalty corner taken by Udita, as a flat shot by the Indian defender bobbled and bounced just over Murphy’s outstretched stick. India kept pushing for a winner, but Murphy would not be beaten again, and the teams headed for a shoot-out.
Indian keeper Savita who had precious little to do in the game, stepped up for her team and pulled off 3 saves, including a penalty stroke, in the shoot-out to give India a shot at the title, while heartbroken Ireland, will face Japan with a chance at winning bronze.
Navneet Kaur was awarded the player of the match and said: “I am thankful for the player of the match award, but I think it belongs to Savita today for that incredible performance in the shoot-out. It was a difficult game against Ireland, especially conceding early in the game, but we kept fighting and got the win I think we deserved.”