Bajan women into tonorrow's champion final
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Barbados’ senior women’s hockey team gave their fans another early Independence celebrations gift with a 3-1 victory over Paraguay in the Aquece Rio International Hockey Championship at the Olympic Hockey Centre in Deodoro Olympic Park, Rio de Janeiro yesterday.
The win gives the Barbados team the maximum nine points from their round-robin matches and cements their place in tomorrow’s gold medal match scheduled for 11 a.m. against Peru.
Up until their match against Barbados, the resilient and stubborn Paraguay women’s team had drawn each of their encounters and seemed determined not to give up any games, or goals for that matter, in the tournament.
Playing in the first game of Match Day 3 today, the Bajan ladies confident from their first two wins, started somewhat flat against a sturdy Paraguayan squad. This seemed a result of the punishing Brazilian heat, the rigorous tournament schedule and general fatigue. Through the first quarter, the yellow ball stayed infield and did not cross any goal-lines, with the Paraguayans diligently trying to help it find a way across the Barbados end.
Goalless play continued into the second quarter, with the hitherto unbeaten Paraguay women pressing steadfastly for a break, but each time they were halted by the goal-stingy, blockade marshal for Barbados, custodian Sheena Nicholls, who kept the yellow ball out of the Barbados’ goal with some spectacular saves. A string of unforced errors by the Bajans made it tough for them to gain any momentum in the match, though they were able to force a green card and a two-minute suspension for Paraguay’s Olga Spiridonoff in the 21st minute. But the temporary advantage yielded no results for the increasingly exuberant Barbados team.
At the half-time interval the scores were level at 0 – 0 and it looked like Paraguay were positioning themselves for their third consecutive draw of the championship, but apparently this was not in Barbados coach Alison Archer’s game plan for the Bimshire ladies.
Two minutes after the restart, a promising advance from team Barbados drew a penalty stroke from the unshakable Paraguay defence, which was easily converted by the experienced Barbados No. 15, Cher King. King’s goal put Barbados one-up against Paraguay and seemed to be enough to crack the once concrete foundation of the Paraguayan defensive wall and allow the Bajans some much needed high ground.
Paraguay gave up another green card and two-minute suspension in the 34th minute, this time by an infringement from Soledad Alvarez.
Six minutes after King scored her penalty, Shani Best made the best of a searching cross from Shakeira Sandiford and bested Paraguay goalie Sandra Barbosa Franco, with a one-time shot for her first international goal, leaving the score-line at the end of the third quarter at 2-0 to Barbados.
With a two-goal cushion and 15 minutes remaining in the match, the Barbados team looked well positioned to take away the full three points, with Nicholls fully on show as she frustrated the Paraguayan forward line with her continued miserly goalkeeping, shutting out all Paraguayan attempts on goal and maintaining the Barbados lead.
As the final quarter played out, Nicholls, who was also credited for her resolute saves during the Brazil match, in a stunningly rare moment of generosity, allowed Paraguay a consolation goal in the 57th minute, as she let Paraguay’s Melanie Armoa get one past her goal-line, decreasing the Barbados two-goal margin with just three minutes left in regulation time.
Moments later however, and characteristic of this Barbados side of playing right down to the final whistle, the three minutes would prove to be all their attack needed to secure a goal, as young Barbados No. 7 Venessa Chewitt broke the Paraguayans with a mesmerizing run from just beyond the 25-meter line, where she skillfully eliminated three defenders before placing a fantastic strike into the right side of the Paraguayan goal in the 59th minute.
Heading into the finals, speedy Barbados power forward Keisha Boyce, wife of Barbados Men’s Hockey team goalkeeper and regular captain Andre Boyce, leads the tournament goal-scorers table with three goals from as many games.
The Aquece Rio International Hockey Championship is the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Test Event for Hockey, staged by the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Brazil next year.