If you want to learn how to play field hockey, you send your coaches to India. That's exactly what the Nigerians did, and today's JFK Memorial field hockey tournament men's final between Union Bank of Nigeria and Air India was expected to determine what kind of students they'd been.
The Nigerians, however, went a step further by borrowing from the physical nature of the European style of play. And yesterday, on the field next to the Reflecting Pool, they overpowered the Indians, 1-0, in overtime to win their second JFK title in three years.
Red Rose of Boston, three times the women's champion and last year's runner-up, exploited the inexperience of a young Taipei team and kept the play in front of Taipei's goalie to gain a 3-0 victory. Taipei keeper Chang Shu Yi kept the game from becoming a rout by stopping more than two dozen shots.
She was voted outstanding player of the tournament.
The men's final was scoreless for 70 minutes of regulation. Nigeria came out passing powerfully and accurately, but was unable to capitalize on its speed and was turned away from near the goal time and time again.
Toward the end of the half, tempers flared and some shoving occurred. But it was nothing compared to last year's final between Nigeria and GAO of Canada, which ended in a bloody, Canadian upset of the defending champions.
During the second half, play was much more controlled. India simply ran out of gas.
Two minutes into the first overtime, Union Bank forward Ekrete Joshua Ekpo smacked a shot high into the goal from the top of the circle.
"We knew India was a very good ball handler," said Ekpo, 24, a student at the University of Lagos. "But towards the end, they didn't move fast enough and they held on to the ball too much. They were tired."
Taipei, second yesterday in its pool, advanced past Philadelphia and Washington to the final on scoreless games. Shu Yi was consistently superior to opposing goalies when the games went into overtime penalty strokes.
Penalty stroke victories are recorded when games remain scoreless even after the mandatory two overtimes. Each team is allotted five chances (strokes) in a one-on-one confrontation between a designated player and the opposing goalie.
But against Red Rose, with seven former U.S. national team players, Taipei's efforts to completely stifle scoring opportunities were ineffective.