World number three team Argentina and the world number five team Australia have always been well-matched but in this quarter-final it seemed nothing could separate them. They have both won the World Cup twice, they have long occupied a place within the top five in the world, they both have iconic players in their glorious hockey history and neither side can stand losing.
There is little to separate Australia and Argentina at the best of times and the quarter final of the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup was the best example of how neither team will ever give an inch.
Australia’s defence over this World Cup has been good, only conceding three goals, while Argentina had been 135 minutes without conceding a goal, so scoring opportunities on the part of both teams was always going to be limited.
In the first quarter, both teams were testing each other out, which made for a cagey and defensive first 15 minutes. There were forays into each other’s goals but on the whole neither Belen Succi or Rachael Lynch were called into action much.
Australia always knew that scoring past Belen Succi and her defence would be a tough ask and so it proved. Just how defensive these two teams were playing is encapsulated in the statistics. By the end of 30 minutes of play, there had been two shots from Australia and four from Argentina.
Neither side, aware of the threat of Australia’s Jodie Kenny and Argentina’s Noel Barrionuevo, had conceded any penalty corners.
The second half saw both teams start to explore the attacking options a little less tentatively. Ambrosia Malone and Renee Taylor both had shots that tested the Leonas defence, while Delfina Merino, Agustina Albertarrio and the effervescent Maria Granatto all forced some brave defending from the Hockeyroos.
A run by Julieta Jankunas looked dangerous but was dealt with by the rock steady Australian defence, where Vitality Player of the Match Georgina Morgan was one of the stars.
At the other end Kathryn Slattery showed her agility in front of goal when she spun and shot, bringing a great reaction save from Succi. There was an instant counter-attack as Rocio Sanchez weaved her way through the Australia defence, only to be met by the barrier that is Lynch.
A great referral for a stick check was called by Martina Cavallero to earn Argentina their first penalty corner but they faced a defensive unit that was not going to give an inch. Led by Jodie Kenny and Maddy Fitzpatrick, who were both excellent throughout the match, the Hockeyroos looked unassailable as the Argentina attack tried to prise the defence open.
Argentina were in the ascendency and looking the more likely to score when a breakdown by Edwina Bone released Slattery. She drew a penalty corner and Jodie Kenny and Goergina Morgan both set up to strike. Kenny’s rasping shot was chased down by the Argentina defence and Las Leonas were able to relieve the pressure.
A speedy run by Lucina von der Heyde looked dangerous but again, the Hockeyroos stood firm. At the other end of the pitch, Brooke Peris was creating problems with her own attacking running. If the Hockeyroos were strong and tall, so the Argentina defence were equally hard-working and proving impossible to break down.
The game moved to shoot out and it took another 14 attempts and much drama to find a winner. Both Succi and Lynch were heroic in goal, Merino thought she had scored but was timed out, there was a penalty stroke after Succi brought Kenny down. In the end it was gladiatorial as Brooke Peris faced Succi. The Australian held her nerve and scored, and seconds later she was mobbed by a sea of yellow shirts.
Speaking after the game, scorer of the winning goal, Brooke Peris said: “I just had a plan and I knew what I had to do. I am so proud of our performance.”
“We knew we had to keep a really strong defence,” added Edwina Bone. “And then we have someone like her [Rachael Lynch] on our side and she was brilliant tonight.”
The match was also a special moment for Belgium umpire Laurine Delforge who officiated her 100th senior international.