Following the day’s earlier excitement in the Australian city of Melbourne, where the Hockeyroos inflicted a rare defeat on reigning women’s world champions the Netherlands, the sixth day of FIH Pro League action continued as Argentina hosted Pan-American rivals USA in Cordoba. It proved to be yet another fascinating encounter, with USA pushing Carlos Retegui’s team every step of the way before suffering defeat in the shoot-out.
Pan American Cup title holders Argentina (FIH World Ranking: 4) made a fine start to their FIH Pro League campaign in last week’s 2-0 victory over Belgium at Cordoba’s Estadio Hockey, but their longstanding rivalry with USA (WR:12), winners of the last two Pan American Games titles, ensured that there was every chance that the form book could be thrown out of the window.
USA, coached by World Cup and Olympic gold medal-winning former Netherlands international Janneke Schopman, were put under considerable pressure by their illustrious opponents in the early stages of the match. Veteran attacker Carla Rebecchi flashed a backhand shot just wide of the target, drawing a big gasp from the vociferous capacity crowd packed into the stadium. Despite Argentina’s early promise, it was the Americans who took the lead thanks to a moment of magic from teenager Mackenzie Allessie. The 17-year-old, playing only her third international match, produced a moment that she will never forget, picking up an attempted clearance from Leonas goalkeeper Belen Succi before showing a calm head to slot home from a tight angle.
Things got even better for USA in the second period when they doubled their lead thanks to a wonderful counter-attack, with Jill Funk causing havoc down the left before firing across the face of goal for the onrushing Lauren Moyer, who forced home from close range to cap her 50th international appearance with a fine goal. While both of USA’s goals had come against the run of play, it was a score-line earned through grit, determination and tactical discipline, with defender Julia Young and goalkeeper Kealsie Robles doing their very best to cancel out the potent Argentinian attacking threat.
A goal-less but thoroughly entertaining third quarter saw Leonas captain Delfina Merino go close before Rebecchi had a goal correctly ruled out when her strike clipped an Argentinean foot before flying in. However, the influential Rebecchi – who was recently tempted out of international retirement following the birth of her first child last year – rolled back the years with a sensational individual contribution in the fourth quarter.
The 34-year-old striker pulled a goal back with the kind of goal on which she forged her fearsome reputation before her retirement in 2016, showing blistering pace to move past USA shot-stopper Robles to slap into an open goal. Rebecchi then played a crucial part in Argentina’s equaliser, sending a flicked penalty corner effort towards goal for Merino to touch home, sparking utter jubilation in the stands.
The match finished with the scores locked at 2-2, meaning that a shoot-out was required to decide who was going to take the bonus point. It went the way of the host nation, who netted through Delfina Merino, Silvina d’Elia and Lucina von der Heyde before Belen Succi settled a 3-1 win by denying Nicole Woods with a diving stick save. Whilst it was a disappointing ending to a fine display by the Americans, Argentina’s never-say-die attitude had ensured that they remain unbeaten after two matches in the FIH Pro League.
“I think it was a great comeback, as I didn’t think we started very well”, said Rebecchi, who was named Player of the Match for the second successive game. “We were losing 2-0 so it was a tough game. We ran a lot, but I think the important thing is that we fight until the end and we won in the shoot-out.”
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