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Russia only needed a draw to secure qualification from Group B in the bracket’s penultimate match but held on to all three points despite a valiant Catalan comeback in the second half. The hosts needed a win to ensure qualification, given the unlikely chance that the Basques could take three points from the Aussies.
Russia attacked from the off as Irina Koturanova charged up the middle of the pitch. She burst past three Catalan defenders before unleashing a firm right-footed shot as she approached the box. The ball whizzed past Sara Carrera and into the net to put the Russians in the driving seat for qualification with not even a minute on the clock.
And the hosts were two goals down a minute later when Svetlana Triapichnikova took aim from long range, picked her spot and steered her shot past Carrera.
Russia’s best player in the tournament so far, Svetlana Nikolskaia, had been fairly quiet in the opening exchanges. That would soon change when she played her part in her team’s third goal of the afternoon. Picking the ball up with time and space just outside her own box, she picked out Koturanova on the left wing with a pinpoint pass. The captain controlled the ball beautifully with the outside of her right foot and her next touch was a controlled shot into the bottom corner.
Many thoughts Russia were out of sight at 3-0 but when Catalonia had a chance to claw one back a minute later the Russian side’s hearts leapt into their mouths. Mariana Flor’s free-kick looked to be heading for the roof of the net but continued to rise and smacked off the bar. Then Nikolskaia raced into the box and was tripped, and the writing seemed on the wall for Catalonia as she stepped up to take the spot-kick. She missed to the left but Viktoriia Bondareva ensured her team found a fourth soon after, tapping in at the back post from Irina Zimirova’s cross.
Catalonia eventually pulled one back just over halfway through the first period, through Alma Cruz. The tricky attacker ran at the Russian back line and was invited space to shoot, and when she pulled the trigger the ball flew past Elena Lukashina.
Zimirova and Bondareva swapped roles to give Russia their four-goal cushion back. Bondareva crossed from the left wing for her teammate sliding in at the back post to poke it in.
Once again the Catalans were not deterred and despite seeing her free-kick saved by Lukashina, Anna Arnau did score a few seconds later, linking up with Aina Moya to narrow the lead for the second time.
This sparked the Russians into life. First, a fluid move on the left was finished off expertly by Triapichnikova, drilling a shot with her left foot from the edge of the box into the bottom corner. Koturanova, who was continuing to provide the main threat for her team, received the ball at an extremely tight angle inside the box with two minutes left and opened up her foot and guided the ball past Carrera to make it 7-2.
The Russians had already been penalised for committing too many fouls and they were so again, this time Laura Viura scored from the resulting free kick to make it 7-3 with what at the time seemed. But with five seconds left Russia reasserted their control as Koturanova crossed for Triapichnikova to seal her brace.
Half Time: Catalonia 3-8 Russia
The hosts came out for the second period in an inspired mood with nothing to lose and it showed. They won a penalty when Triapichnikova fouled Arnau as she bared down on the goal. Belen Entrena took the spot kick but saw it brilliantly saved by Lukashina, but the Russian keeper watched helplessly as the ball ricocheted off the post and back into the path of her opponent who made amends by calmly side-footing then ball across the line.
It remained a stalemate until the Catalans produced a goal worthy of their regional icons, Barcelona. Neatly working the ball out from defence following a Russian attack with some nice combinations, Arnau then dribbled up the court and slipped a pass through a gap in the Russian defence for the perfectly-timed run of Cruz who finished it off first time, reducing the deficit to three goals with 12 minutes left on the clock.
The Catalans continued to press on, with Entrena forcing a save from Lukashina, and Arnau missing at the near post. Arnau continued to be the focal point and it was her drive that grabbed her team’s sixth. She powered up the centre of the court then laid the ball off to Entrena on her right, who crossed for Flor to turn it in and set up an intriguing last seven minutes.
Unfortunately for the hosts there was no miracle on the horizon as their continued pressure didn’t materialise into any more goals, and they will have to contend with a playoff place. Russia meanwhile did the damage in the first half but they may be worried with just how low their performance dipped in the second period. Nonetheless, they advance to the semi finals top of the group and will have to prepare for a match against the USA.
Full Time: Catalonia 6-8 Russia
Team A: 1- Sara Carrera (GK), 4- Laura Viura, 6- Aina Moya, 9- Julia Sabaté, 8- Anna Arnau, 10- Belen Entrena, 11- Ana Rodriguez, 14- Mariona Flor 17- Sara Crespo, 18- Alma Cruz
MVP: Anna Arnau. The playmake chipped in with a crucial goal in this match and provided some very clever assists. She was a threat to the Russians whenever she touched the ball and led the comeback.
Team B: 16- Elena Lukashina (GK), 3- Elizaveta Kaleneva, 7- Aleksandra Shuliak, 8- Svetlana Nikolskaia, 9- Iana Zimirova, 10- Irina Koturanova, 11- Svetlana Triapichnikova, 12- Viktoriia Ivanova, 13- Daria Golovnina, 14- Viktoriia Bondareva
MVP: Irena Koturanova. The Russian captain put in a controlled performance, orchestrating from the centre of the pitch. In the first half she put her name on the scoresheet and then in the second she worked hard enough to ensure her team did not give up the lead.