With China scoring a penalty corner inside the first five minutes, Canada faced an immediate uphill battle in the FIH Series Finals quarterfinals. Canada pushed back and tied the game right at the start of the second quarter as Oliver Scholfield was the right person on the spot to reach up and deflect the rebound into the goal off a Jamie Wallace effort.
Canada faced China last year in July at home for a five-game series on home soil in Vancouver. Of those five games, Canada won three, drew one and lost one. Ranked 10th vs China’s 14th, Canada had the slight edge heading into this evening’s tilt. But as anyone knows, the stats and history don’t mean too much once the ball is dropped and the match is on.
With the score tied at one goal apiece heading into the second half, Canada knew that had to take their game to the next level if they were going to book a spot in the tournament semifinals. Despite some great possession hockey and a variety of chances, China was equal to the task and offered a fast-paced counter and fast-break attack,
With no time on the clock left in the third quarter, China earned a pair of penalty corners and scored on the second one. Heading into the fourth quarter, China was 2/4 on their PC set pieces, a definite difference-maker. Canada fought back with a goal by Iain Smythe, capitalizing on a miss-trap by the Chinese defender. The excitement was short lived, however as China marched down the pitch and scored to take the lead again.
In what was an action-packed fourth stanza, Canada responded again as Balraj Panesar slipped a pass inside the circle to his brother Sukhi who spun and slid the ball passed the Chinese keeper. And then, with less than a minute remaining, Keegan Pereira and Mark Pearson teamed up for what appeared to be the game-winning goal but was called back on a controversial “back-stick” call. Needing to put that behind them, Canada found themselves in a shootout scenario (as they have been before in Olympic qualifying events.)
It’s almost as though all the drama had been played out in that blistering fourth quarter. Pearson opened the shootout with a patented backhand blast, Sukhi Panesar slid a goal past the Chinese keeper and Keegan Pereira was up to his old tricks with a sneaky little flick goal. David Carter proved again to be the class of the shootout as he stopped two attempts, only allowing one en-route to the 3-1 SO victory.
Pearson said of Carter, “he’s a world class goalie, he’s so good going down and moving side to side. He proved again how much of a weapon he can be in the shootout.”
Pearson, who was named man of the match said, “We know the Chinese team, they work really hard defensively and can catch you on the break. They did well at the World Cup in December, and we knew it would be a tough game. They made us work really hard today. We were happy to get the result.”
Canada will now face surprise group winner, Italy, in the tournament semfinals on May 3 at 5:45pm Local Time.