While China impressed in the opening moments of their Pool A match with their expansive style of play, creating heaps of space as they moved the ball from side to side, it was the attacking intent of their much lower ranked rivals that caught the eye. While China showed their ability and willingness to cover every inch of the field, it was the midfield dynamos of the Azzurri, Elisabetta Pacella and Maria Socino who were creating the opportunities that proved the difference between the two teams.
“We were told prior to the match to go out and play attacking hockey in the China half of the pitch,” said Itay’s Jasbeer Singh. “We just grew in confidence as the match went on. This is our first World Cup for 42 years and we want to go as far as we can.”
China were alerted to the danger posed by their opponents when Giuliana Ruggerieri was able to shoot at will after a sequence of passes picked a hole in the Chinese defence and left the striker free. Her shot buzzed harmlessly wide of the goal but the spectators began to sense a ranking upset might be on the cards.
The goal, when it came, was a piece of magic from Valentina Braconi. She latched onto a rebounded shot and slammed the ball past Ye Jiao in the China goal.
Just as the Italian forwards were doing their part in pressurising the China defence, so their defence was standing firm in the face of any attack. Goalkeeper Martina Chirico pulled off an amazing double save, diving first to her right and then bouncing up to dive to her left and deny China the equaliser.
The second half started in much the same vein. China played with composure when they had the ball and there were some pitch-splitting passes from left to right and back again, but when it came to direct activity towards goal, it was the Italians who seized the initiative. The second goal for Italy came when Vitality Player of the Match Lara Oviedo slid in to deflect a penalty corner strike. The well-rehearsed move left the Chinese defence wrong-footed.
China started to get their own creative moves going as the third quarter counted down. Guo Qiu picked up the ball and weaved her way through the Italian defence before releasing Zhong Jiaqi. Her shot struck the side of the goal but the signs were there that China were responding. Jamilon Mulders, China’s Head Coach removed the ‘keeper for the last two minutes of the quarter, coinciding with a green card for an Italian player, so the Asia team had a two-player pitch advantage.
It was a brave move but the plan back-fired as the experienced Italian side stole possession mid-field and released Ruggieri who made no mistake as she shot home into the empty goal, taking the score to 3-0, and moved Italy briefly to the top of Pool A.