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29 Jun, 2009 08:53

Field hockey event hopes to promote the sport in Russia

Russia has finished third in a field hockey four nations tournament held just outside Moscow. The home side beat Bangladesh to seal the bronze, while first place went to South Africa, who thrashed Canada in the final.

Field Hockey in Russia hasn’t been in the best of health since the early 1990s. In the eighties the Soviet Union was one of the strongest sides in Europe, but since its collapse Russia has failed to qualify for the Olympics.

The main problem facing Russia is the chronic lack of infrastructure. There are only four Olympic standard pitches in the country, while only around 15,000 people play the game, and field hockey, of course, is rather overshadowed by ice hockey.

Russia had the chance to get in some much needed practice at the four nations tournament held just outside Moscow. However, they missed out on the final on goal difference, which left them playing Bangladesh for the bronze.

The first half proved to be tight. Russia was very well drilled, and Dmitry Azarov was particularly effective from penalty corners. Bangladesh were very naïve at times, but showed some excellent skills, and they were able to hold the home side at two-all after the end of the first 35 minutes.

Two quick-fire goals immediately after the interval put Russia back on the front foot, and they eased to a 6-3 victory to seal third place.

Russia are currently ranked 25th in the world, and hasn’t even been near to qualifying for the Olympics. Their captain says big changes need to be made if the sport is going to become successful.

The final saw Canada play South Africa. South Africa beat their North American opponents 2-0 in the group stages, but the championship game was all but over midway through the first half.

The South Africans were on fire, and were 4-0 up by the 21st minute. The damage wasn’t coming from penalty corners, but through excellent attacking, which was cutting the Canadian defense apart like a hot knife through butter.

The half time break saw the score at 7-0, with the North American's understandably shell-shocked, especially as Canada is ranked four places higher than the South Africans, who are 15th in the world rankings.

There wasn’t the same goal glut in the second 35 minutes. Canada gained a modicum of consolation with a goal from a penalty corner, but South Africa also added another, to make it 8-1 and seal a very one-sided victory.

Credit goes without saying to South Africa, who scored 23 goals over four games.