LONDON -  Unibet Eurohockey Championships 2015 in  London. Poland v Italy .  Valentina Braconi (m) of Italy stopped by Polish Goalie Marta Kucharska . right  Polish Paulina Okaj (r).   WSP Copyright  KOEN SUYK

Last-gasp equaliser gives Italy a crucial point

POL v ITA 1-1 (1-0)

This encounter was a must win game for both sides, as defeat in their opening Group C game would mean a step closer to relegation to the EuroHockey Nations Trophy. Jonathan Spencer reports from the Unibet EuroHockey Championships.

Italy started the match on the front foot, putting pressure on the Polish defence, with Giulianna Ruggieri pushing the ball just wide of the right hand post in the 5th minute.

However, Poland came back into the game, creating their own chances, with Adrianna Marchinkowska putting the ball on an Italian foot for a penalty corner.

Captain Marlena Rybacha (‘9’) stepped up and scored the opening goal of this crucial game, slotting the ball under Martina Chirico, who will feel she should have prevented the goal.

Italy did not hold back and nearly equalised straight away through Maria Garraffo. Fortunately for the Polish, the ball was cleared off the line by Marta Kruszynski. The game was still very much in the balance going into the second quarter.

Poland came close to doubling their lead through a clever run by Oriana Walasek but Italian goalkeeper, Chirico, made up for her earlier error by making a fine save to denying the Polish a comfortable lead.

Against the overall run of play in the second quarter, Italy received a penalty stroke after Dalila Mirabella was stick tackled by Marta Kucharska. However, they couldn’t convert, as the stroke is pulled left of the post by Maria Socino. A

Agonisingly for Italy, they remained 1-0 behind at half time, leaving them with plenty to do in the second half to have any chance of escaping relegation.

Italy fought back early in the third quarter after fine skill by Ruggieri won them a penalty corner. The resulting drag flick drifted just wide of the right hand post.

Halfway through the third quarter, the worried Italians won two penalty corners in a row but were denied on both occasions by excellent keeping from Kucharska.

The tide seemed to have turned and the Italians had found a burst of energy with a crucial 20 minutes left, while the Polish had their backs against the walls.

The Italians, whilst down to 10 players, won two more penalty corners in quick succession but could not take advantage. They went into the final quarter still searching for an elusive goal.

The final quarter started off in a tense fashion. Chirico was called upon to produce a brilliant instinct save from a quick deflection, to deny the Poland putting the game to bed.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and with five minutes to go, Italy decided to put on a kicking back to pile the pressure on Poland.

With two minutes to go, the Italians came painfully close after a ball went all the way through to the back post but Elisabetta Pacella could not find the bottom right hand corner of the goal.

The pressure resulted in a yellow card, with Natalia Wisniewska receiving her marching orders. Ten seconds later, the Italians equalised, with Pacella this time deflecting the ball into the back of the net.

Soon after, the final whistle had blown, with the final score finishing 1-1. Both teams have a fighting relegated after a very exciting match as a win was required.

After the game, Natalia Wisniewska said: “It’s a pity that we drew as a win would have helped hugely. We now definitely have to win our final match and get the three points to try and secure our status for next year.”

The Italian captain Chiara Tiddi said: “We knew this match was important because it would have made it a lot easier on Sunday but we are happy that we found that late goal. One point is better than zero.
“We have to play well against a hard Belgium team. We have to concentrate in our final match because we want to stay in this division.”