Scotland within touching distance of Champions Challenge final
24 June 2011
Scotland Women have powered their way into the semi-finals of the FIH Champions Challenge in Dublin, where Gordon Shepherd's side now find themselves facing a last four encounter against USA tomorrow afternoon, in what will be one of their most important matches for several years.
Coming into the competition as the lowest ranked team by the International Hockey Federation (FIH), the players have made a mockery of the world rankings by remaining the only unbeaten team amongst the eight international teams vying for promotion to the FIH Champions Trophy.
They successfully negotiated their Pool A matches against South Africa (2-2), USA (3-1), and Japan (1-1), and defeated Azerbaijan (3-2) in their quarter-final match on Wednesday. That these teams are all ranked higher than the Scots would suggest that the current placing of 21st in the world doesn't accurately reflect the squad's progress over the last eighteen months under Shepherd.
Their results in the competition to date have surpassed the squad's expectations, putting them within touching distance of the final of a competition in which they were expected to be fighting it out for a bottom four place in the final standings, and this unexpected success has forced Shepherd to amend his initial aim of finishing sixth in this prestigious event:
"To finish in the top six in Dublin was our original target, but now we want a medal for our efforts in the competition. USA in the semi-finals will be a very hard game and they are now playing very well, but so are we, so I think it will be very close"
Indeed, the Scots will be wary that whilst the Americans finished bottom of the group, they went on to defeat an Ireland side (3-1) in the quarter-finals that had progressed from Pool B with an unbeaten record after wins against India (2-1), Azerbaijan (2-1), and a draw with Spain (1-1).
But that will not phase Scotland, as Shepherd was keen to emphasise following their win over Azerbaijan:
"The performance against Azerbaijan in the quarter-final was excellent. We started the game well and didn`t panic when we lost a goal. I was extremely impressed with the players` composure. The squad's reaction is an obvious one; the players are over the moon. It was a high pressure game with so much at stake, now they are relieved as they feel they deserve to be in the top four."
"I am delighted with the whole tournament, thrilled to be part of a great team who are playing excellent hockey on a big stage," said Shepherd trying to sum up the whole experience.
Tomorrow's match starts at 3.00pm and you can follow action live online via Hook Hockey website.
For more information about the competition, including fixtures, results and pool standings, please visit the FIH Champions Challenge website.
FIH Champions Challenge, Dublin, Ireland
Saturday 25 June 2011
Semi-Final 1: Spain vs. Japan, 1pm.
Semi-Final 2: Scotland vs. USA, 3pm.