April 19-27 - Kazan, Russia
On the final day of the WorldHockey Olympic Qualifier in Kazan, Russia, tournament favorite USA defeated Belgium to take the second-but-last available place in the women's Olympic tournament, the Netherlands Antilles fought their way past India to claim bronze, and Russia slipped past France for fifth place. This is the first time since Seoul 1988 that the US women participate in an Olympic hockey tournament when not the host nation.
USA 3 v Belgium 1
In a fiercely contested final here in Kazan, the USA started off tentatively, seemingly letting Belgium play the first few minutes before moving in to take charge. Increasing pressure slowly but steadily, the USA moved onto the scoreboard in the 18th minute, when Kayla Bashore deflected a Kelly Doton penalty corner hit into the net.
Belgium stepped up to the challenge, and sank a penalty corner of their own little later when Anne-Sophie van Regemortel converted the Belgians second short corner of the match with a cracking banana shot. The USA remained confident and unimpressed however, and quickly restored the lead through Tiffany Snow, who tapped a great Kate Barber pass across the face of the goal over the line for her sixth goal of the tournament, a goal that would also earn her the title as Topscorer of the Tournament.
Coming back freshly motivated after the break, the game was hotly disputed, an exciting clash between equal rivals. But as time wore on, the USA gained ground on Belgium, in part due to their superior physical fitness, and with twelve minutes to go, a great goal from the USA's captain Kate Barber settled the match. Barber made her way into the circle from the right, launching a shot from a narrow angle that beat soon-to-be Goalkeeper of the Tournament Elizabeth Achten, inexplicably passing beneath her.
The clock kept ticking down, and Belgium attacked with increasing desperation, but there was no way past the Americans today. The USA soon contented themselves with defending their lead rather than attacking, and just let time pass.
After 70 minutes, the siren soundsed and the USA had pocketed their ticket to Beijing, a fair ending to this tournament, as the arguably best side in the event, who have competed consistently at the highest level here in Kazan, picked up the grand prize.
The USA thus join Australia and New Zealand, Germany, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Spain, Argentina, South Africa, China and Japan in the Beijing Olympic hockey tournament. The one remaining vacancy to complete the 12 team roster will be filled with the winner of the last WorldHockey Olympic Qualifier, held in Victoria, Canada, and started yesterday.