(Photo: FIH)

The EuroHockey Nations Championships in Manchester got off to a blazing start with a whopping 26 goals in Day 1 play. In the four women's encounters played out on Saturday, Spain cruised past the Ukraine, Germany had no difficulties with Azerbaijan, England celebrated a shutout against Ireland, and World Champions Holland steamrollered Italy. In both pools, the tables are thus neatly split in two with the Netherlands and England topping pool A, while Germany and Spain lead the way in pool B.

The day began with Spain taking on the Ukraine and getting off to a good start with a second minute goal from a penalty corner converted by team captain Silvia Muñoz. Recovering quickly from the shock of the early goal, the Ukraine held their ground well throughout the remainder of the first half. Ester Termens did manage to extend Spain's lead late in the first half but only to see the goal open up play and Nataliya Vasyukova seizing the opportunity for the Ukraine's first little later to have the teams go into halftime at 2-1.

Returning from the break, the Ukraine took initiative and put the Spanish defense to the test with several excellent efforts that would have well merited the equalizer. Maria Jesus Rosa in the Spanish goal however did a good job steering her team safely through the danger zone, and instead of drawing the scores level, the Ukrainians had to watch Spain extend their lead as Rocio Ybarra looped a rebound on a penalty corner past goalkeeper Olha Fisyun.

Ybarra's attempt spurred the Spanish on again, and while the Ukraine still tried to salvage something from the game, they pushed hard for another goal that eventually came in the last minute when national team veteran Nuria Camon took advantage of a penalty stroke awarded after a foul on Julia Menendez.

The second game of the day paired Germany with Azerbaijan. The latter team, seventh ranked in this competition, had the biggest and most enthusiastic support of any team but England today, but could not challenge the reigning Olympic Champions. They fought tooth and nail for the first fifteen minutes and managed to keep the Germans locked down, but a goal from Janine Beermann broke the deadlock only to be followed by another piled on as Tina Bachmann converted a penalty stroke. Azerbaijan looked suddenly deflated and allowed the Germans to add two more before halftime through Anke Kühn and Svenja Schürmann.

Azerbaijan finally got on the scoreboard in the 42nd minute as one of the team's most recent additions, Zhang Suleymanova, took advantage of a penalty corner. Michi Behrmann's lineup remained unimpressed however, and put another three goals past the fading Azeri side as Anke Kühn added a penalty corner goal, followed immediately by a lovely field goal from Maike Stöckel, and Pia Eidmann wrapped up the proceedings with a last minute goal.

In the subsequent match, hosts England had a rocky start against Gene Muller's Irish girls but gradually found their rhythm and took charge of the game. Alex Danson got her side on the scoreboard in the 18th minute with a deflection off a Kate Walsh free hit from the edge of the circle, and Lucilla Wright added England's just before the break with another deflection, this time off a Crista Cullen corner.

The home team never looked back and dominated much off the second half, as their Irish opponents worked hard but could not capitalize on the opportunities they created. Only minutes from the end, Cathy Gilliat-Smith touched a Kerry Williams pass over the line to produce the final 3-0 victory for her team. The home team eventually looked quite relieved to have gotten through their opener unscathed, a fact confirmed by team captain Kate Walsh in the post-game press conference, who also promised that it had not been the team's best performance and that they were going to 'take it up a couple of gears' for the coming matches.

The first round of women's pool matches concluded with tournament favorites the Netherlands showing no mercy for an Italian side that was clearly out of their depth. In an entertaining match to end the day, the Dutch took a while to reach operating temperature, and wasted numerous chances in the first half. This was still enough to easily keep their opponents at bay and claim a comfortable three goal halftime lead with a low penalty corner flick from Maartje Paumen, a cross ball hit into the roof of the goal by Marilyn Agliotti, and a reverse stick shot from Eefke Mulder.

The second half continued in the same vein, the Dutch dominance if anything only increasing. Team captain Minke Booij converted two penalty corners, former South African national team player Marilyn Agliotti got her second of the day, as did Eefke Mulder, and Naomi van As and Wieke Dijkstra added two more. To the great delight of the audience, Italy also managed to score a goal in the second half as Francesca Faustini tipped in a nice ball across from Augustina Di Bernardo.

Even though it may seem sarcastic to say this, the Italians owe much to their goalkeeper Anna Russo who pulled a number of spectacular saves today and was crucial to keeping the scoreline down. If not for her, the Dutch might easily have scored 15 or more goals in this encounter.

Day 1 has thus confirmed the favorites in this tournaments, with the big four Spain, Germany, England, and the Netherlands all bagging three points. Action resumes tomorrow when the men's competition gets underway with Germany meeting the Czech Republic, England taking on Belgium, Spain butting heads with Ireland, and the Netherlands wrapping up the day wi their encounter with France.

All results:
Spain - Ukraine 4-1 (2-1)
Germany - Azerbaijan 7-1 (4-0)
England - Ireland 3-0 (2-0)
Netherlands - Italy 9-1 (3-0)

Pool Standings:

Pool A

Netherlands 3 p. 9-1
England 3 p. 3-0
Ireland 0 p. 0-3
Italy 0 p. 1-9

Pool B

Germany 3 p. 7-1
Spain 3 p. 4-1
Ukraine 0 p. 1-4
Azerbaijan 0 p. 1-7