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Hosts Spain, Italy reach Women’s Hockey World League semifinals with contrasting wins

England v Spain - Women's EuroHockey 2011

FILE PHOTO: Spain reached the Women’s Hockey World League semifinal

Hosts Spain stormed into the women’s Hockey World League semifinals after outwitting Belarus 5-3 in the third Round 2 tournament, which concluded in the Spanish city of Valencia.

The world number 15 needed a win in regulation time to secure a berth in the semifinals. Lola Riera did not disappoint the home crowd as she whipped home the first penalty corner in the 3rd minute.

The early strike was just what the doctor ordered for the Spanish eves, who held possession for most part of the first stanza. Lola Riera was once again in the thick of things as she converted another short corner in the 16th minute as Belarus had a lot of catching up to do.

The 21st ranked side, who pushed Italy into penalty shootout after being down 0-2 and also surprised 14th ranked Ireland in their earlier matches, were in no mood take things lying down. Belarus rebounded through Natassia Syrayezhka’s goal in the 21st minute.

Spain realized the importance of enhancing the goal cushion and struck two quick goals in the closing stages of the first half – first through Raquel Huertas and later through Georgina Oliva as Spain sat in the comfort zone with a 4-1 lead at half-time.

Stung by the two late Spanish goals, Belarus threw everything into their attacks in the second half. They reduced the margin in the 44th minute when Krestina Kulinkovich sounded the board.

Belarus raised visions of an exciting finish when Syrayezhka rattled the Spanish cage in the 52nd minute.

The 4-3 scoreline had all the ingredients of an edge-of-the-seat thriller. But Spain had a great chance to pull ahead a minute later when they were awarded a penalty stroke.

Lola Riera made no mistake from the dreaded spot and in the process wrapped up a fine hat-trick.

The goal knocked the stuffing out of Belarus, who tried everything possible but couldn’t breach the Spanish defence.

Spain did well to hold out the final seventeen minutes to close out the match with a 5-3 win.

Spain were joined by 17th ranked Italy, who vanquished top-seed Ireland by a solitary goal.

A win was a must for both Ireland and Italy as they went into the game tied in the standings in second place with six points each with Belarus topping the group with seven points.

The hard-fought contest saw both teams exercise caution even while going for the jugular.

The first half remained goalless.

Both teams tried to break the deadlock in the second half but it was Italy who struck through Elisabetta Pacella, who unleashed a backhanded shot in the 55th minute to set off joy among their supporters.

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