Ranchi, Jan 13: Two late penalty corner conversions helped New Zealand overcome Italy 3-0 in the opening Pool B match in the women's FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers at the Marang Gomke Jaipal Singh Astro Turf Stadium here on Saturday.
Frances Davies scored a brace off penalty corners and Stephanie Dickins struck the third with a direct attempt off a short corner as New Zealand started their campaign on winning note. However, they were not at their fluent best.
New Zealand dominated possession (57% to 43%) made 18 circle penetrations to just seven by the Italians, had 15 shots on target as compared to only two by their rivals and earned seven penalty corners, converting three of them, as against two by Italy.
But for most of the match, they were denied by a resilient Italian defence after Francis Davies scored off their first penalty corner in the seventh minute.
They failed to add to the score in the next 45 minutes of the match before salvaging the result with two late goals. Davies got her second goal of the match when he scored off a nice penalty corner variation while Stephanie Dickins scored a minute later with a direct attempt off their seventh penalty corner.
New Zealand got off to a good start as they led 1-0 by the end of the first quarter.
Frances Davies scored off a rebound in the seventh minute for the Black Sticks women after the initial attempt off their first penalty corner. Frances Davies deflected into the goal the second attempt by a forward as the Italians used the video referral for a raised ball. The verdict came in favour of New Zealand and the goal stood.
Italy were also hampered as Sofia Laurito and Maria Inaudi sat in the sin-bin with green cards. They did create one good attack but could not capitalise on it.
Italy were a bit more competitive in the second quarter and did not allow the Black Sticks Women many chances. New Zealand did earn back-to-back penalty corners at the stroke of the half-time -- skipper Olivia Merry's attempt off the first one hit a defender's foot while the second one was not cleanly stopped. New Zealand went into the break leading 1-0.
Italy earned a penalty corner in the third quarter but could not capitalise on it as the attempt to bring the
New Zealand made it 2-0 in the 53rd minute off a penalty corner when Stephanie Dickins
passed the ball behind her back off the first battery to Frances Davies for a neat variation and the 27-year-old defender swept the ball home past a stunned Italian defence.
A minute later, Stephanie Dickins made it 3-0 as she struck home a strong drag flick off their third penalty corner for New Zealand.
Though the late surge gave some respectability to the scoreline, New Zealand were not at their best in this match. Italy did create some good chances but could not capitalise on that.
All in all, the Black Sticks should be happy to have started the tournament on a winning note. (IANS)