(Photo: FIH)

The second-but-last day of competition for the women in Manchester started off with two relegation pool matches in which Ireland and Azerbaijan raked up their second wins in the 5-8 bracket, thus confining the Ukraine and Italy to relegation ahead of the final day already. Then followed the semifinals which eventually saw the Netherlands and Germany through to the clash for gold, while the defeated teams, Spain and England, will face each other in the highly explosive bronze medal match which will send the winner to Beijing directly and confine the defeated team to attending a qualifier.

Ireland started the day against the Ukraine who have not yet won a point in the competition, and the favored Irish soon snatched the steering wheel with an early goal from Eimear Cregan who picked up a long pass from Jenny McDonough, went into the circle and made no mistake, putting away a low hit. Olha Fisyun got to the ball, but still had to reach behind her, and the Ukraine was trailing by one goal.

Much of the first half that followed was inconsequential banter from both sides, neither team able to mount consistent pressure or seriously threaten the opponents' goal. Shortly before halftime however, it was once more Eimear Cregan who took the initiative, fighting her way into the circle for a shot on goal that was parried by Fisyun. The ball fell back to Cregan however, and with the rebound, Ireland had a two goal lead.

The Ukraine wasn't about to give up just yet and got one back through Maryna Vynohradova who sank a penalty corner just before the break. An uneventful and sluggish second half produced no more goals, the Irish girls snatching up the important win that ensures A division status for them in 2009.

The second relegation pool match followed, with Azerbaijan confronting Italy and also booking their second win in the relegation pool which equally secures top 8 status for them for the next EuroHockey Nations. In a heated exchange on the warmest day in the tournament so far, both teams were highly motivated and put forward a rather entertaining exchange of blows that failed to produce any goals however.

Azerbaijan had slight advantages, playing more decisively and enjoying the bigger part of ball possession, but they could not score, not even from numerous penalty corners. The final hooter went with the teams still deadlocked at 0-0, but with a penalty corner in favor of Azerbaijan to go. Liana Nuriyeva deflected the ball into the net on the second attempt, crushing the Italians' hopes of securing a draw and keeping alive their dream of remaining amongst the best eight nations in Europe.

The third game of the day was the first semifinal of the women's competition which put the Netherlands against Spain. The World Champions left no doubt as to where they were headed from the opening whistle and had little difficulty controlling their opponents throughout the match. Marilyn Agliotti, who has played an excellent tournament in her first outing for Holland at a major competition after quitting the Southafrican national team, put the advantage in numbers in the ninth minute, tipping in a pass from Fatima Moreira de Melo.

Despite their clear superiority, the Dutch then cruised along at half steam, taking until the 43rd minute to score their second as Kim Lammers laid a penalty corner off to the left for Janneke Schopman who scooped the ball into the net. The goal spurred the World Champions on to a period of enhanced activity which eventually led to the third goal as Carlijn Welten made good use of another penalty corner.

With a three goal lead established, Marc Lammers' team relented again and brought the game home safely. The Netherlands had thus reached the final, while Spain have to go into the all-important match for third place.

The last encounter of the day paired home team England and Germany in a dramatic locking of horns. The game endured a tight beginning with both teams probing each other without giving too much away. Germany were happy to take the lead in the 22nd minute with Anke Kühn converting a penalty corner for the match's first goal. Two minutes from halftime, Maike Stöckel added another to double the Olympic Champions' lead and put England in a very difficult position.

The hosts came back well after the break and started the second period energetically and at a high tempo but they failed to be dangerous in front of the goal. Just when it seemed all was lost, Lucilla Wright finally got England's fans to draw a collective deep breath with about four minutes to go as she deflected a Crista Cullen penalty corner hit to bring England within striking distance again, but the English were running out of time fast.

The last few minutes were suspense-packed, seeing England awarded a further four penalty corners in this frantic finale but they could not use their chances and had to watch Germany pick up the victory that spells Beijing for them. England will thus meet Spain in the bronze medal match.

All results:

Relegation Pool Ireland - Ukraine 2-1 (2-1)
Relegation Pool Azerbaijan - Italy 1-0 (0-0)
Semifinal Netherlands - Spain 3-0 (1-0)
Semifinal England - Germany 1-2 (0-2)

Further Programme

Men on Friday, August 24
12:00 Relegation Pool England v Ireland
14:00 Relegation Pool France v Czech Republic
16:00 Semifinal Netherlands v Belgium
18:30 Semifinal Germany v Spain

Women on Saturday, August 25
10:00 Relegation Pool Italy v Ukraine
12:00 Relegation Pool Ireland v Azerbaijan
14:00 Bronze Medal Match Spain v England
16:30 Final Netherlands v Germany