Hockey Olympic Qualifiers: USA beat Japan 2-1 to reach final, clinch berth in Paris Olympics
Ranchi: The United States clinched a berth at the Paris Olympic Games as they defeated Japan 2-1 in the semifinal of the women’s FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers, scoring two late goals off penalty corners to secure a place in the final here.
The United States, who won a bronze at home in the 1984 edition, fought back brilliantly to return to the Olympics for the seventh time, the last appearance coming at the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.
The United States came to India as the least favourite among the contenders but were the first to clinch a berth in the Olympics as they rode on an undying spirit, defending stoutly as they remained unbeaten so far, conceding only one goal in four matches.
David Passmore’s team chased the game throughout as Japan held the advantage. The former Asian Games gold medallist seemed to clinch the issue when Amiru Shimada scored in the 38th minute off a penalty corner on a cold and foggy evening at the Marang Gomke Jaipal Singh Astro-Turf Hockey Stadium here,’
Ashley Hoffman pulled them level in the 52nd minute by converting a penalty corner and then Abigail Tamer slotted home the winner in the 55th minute off a rebound on their fourth penalty corner.
in the end, both teams shared equal possession but the United States made eight circle entries as compared to five by Japan. Both teams had eight circle entries as the US converted two of their five penalty corners while the Japanese could capitalise only on one of their six short corners.
It was Japan that earned the first penalty corner but Kelsey Bing and her defenders were spot-on in dealing with the threat.
Japan held the upper hand initially but the United States fought back and forced two penalty corners of their own. However, the Japan penalty corner set-up was up to the mark and the efforts did not result in goals as the two teams remained tied goalless at the end of the first quarter.
In all, Japan had three circle entries in the first quarter while the United States had two. For Japan, skipper Yuri Nagai made a couple of good runs down the right flank while Madeleine Zimmer led their American forwards for a couple of strong counter-attacks. Ashley Hoffman led the United States defence superbly as they kept the Japanese at bay.
In the second quarter, Huzuki Nagai was fouled by a US defender, which earned Japan a penalty corner but Shihori Oikawa’s attempt was easily blocked. The score remained 0-0 at half-time.
A swift counterattack led to a circle entry resulting in a penalty corner as USA players put the ball out deliberately. An indirect variation by Kana Urata was blocked but her hit off a rebound deflected in by Amiru Shimada.
The Americans sought a video referral for the ball hitting a forward’s foot but the images were inconclusive. The goal stood and for the first time in this tournament in Racnhi, the United States were chasing a game as goalkeeper Kelsey Bing’s defence was breached.
With Japan leading 1-0, the pressure was on the United States in the fourth quarter, Japan continued to hold the advantage as they bagged a penalty corner as Ashley Hoffman made a blunder in the circle. But Kana Urata’s effort was blocked and the rebound resulted in a re-take of the penalty which could not be stopped properly due to the wobbly pitch.
A foul on Amanda Golini earned the United States a penalty corner which was converted by Ashley Hoffman as she placed a superb flick past goalkeeper Akio Tanaka to make it 1-1.
A couple of minutes later, the USA surged ahead to a 2-1 lead as they earned another penalty corner after Madeline Zimmer made a fine run into the circle near the backline. This time though Ashley Hoffman’s attempt was blocked and partially cleared by the goalkeeper Tanaka, Abigail Tamer slotted home the rebound to give the Americans the lead.
Japan were now chasing a goal with just over five minutes remaining on the clock. With about two minutes on the clock, chief coach Jude Menezes pulled out goalkeeper Tanaka for an extra attacker. However, it was the United States who benefitted as they earned a penalty corner. Though it was wasted there was not enough time for Japan to launch any more attacks and as the long hooter went off David Passmore and his girls erupted in wild cheers as they finally made it to the Olympics for the first time after 2016.