The Hockeyroos will contest the World Cup final after they saw off a relentless challenge from the USA. For their part, the USA saw their World Cup adventure come to the most heart-breaking of endings after they came back from 2-1 down in the final minutes of regular time, only to lose in a penalty shoot-out. The Hockeyroos had taken the lead just before half-time, but the USA had fought back so the score at full-time was 2-2. Great goal-keeping by Australia's Rachael Lynch prevented all but one of the USA players from scoring and with Kellie White, Georgie Parker and Jodie Kenny all finding the net, it is the Hockeyroos who will contest Saturday's final. The USA, who came into this tournament as 10th-ranked underdogs will contest the bronze medal.
The match itself was a thrilling semi-final between two physical, fit and committed teams. The first half was an even affair played out with just one goal scored on the brink of half time by Kellie White of Australia. If it was possible, the second half was played at an even greater tempo and both sides created scoring opportunities, although the greater quality of play was probably to be found in the defensive units of both teams. The USA levelled, only to see Anna Flanagan score a trademark drag-flick to restore the lead. A sustained USA attack was rewarded with two minutes left when Michelle Vitesse scored to send the game into shoot-out.
It was a busy start by both teams with Australia marginally edging the opening few minutes, but it was USA who drew the first save, the tournament's top scorer Katie O'Donnell forcing Hockeyroos goalkeeper Rachael Lynch into action.
The half settled into a flowing and exciting game, with both teams playing expansive and open hockey. Australia were led on the break time and again by the heard-working Georgia Nanscawen and Emily Hurtz, but their forays into the USA defending end were met by a solid and stern resistance from Caroline Nichols, Lauren Crandall and Stefanie Fee. At the other end of the pitch, Jodie Kenny – who has had an outstanding World Cup – was strong in the Australia defence.
Coach Craig Parnham will not be pleased that his team lost their video referral early in the half. This was a rare slip-up in decision-making and might have been a sign of the pressure getting to the normally disciplined USA squad.
As the half played out, key players for both teams began to make their presence felt. Madonna Blyth proved her value at the core of the Australia midfield, making crucial tackles and providing the platform for Australia attacking opportunities. Up front for the Hockeyroos, Kellie White and Georgie Parker were hard-working and put the USA defence to the test with regularity. For the USA, Michelle Kasold and Michelle Vitesse were particularly impressive, their passes scattering across the field with pin-point accuracy to create all sorts of problems for the Hockeyroos defence to deal with.
The opening goal came at the end of the half, Hurtz made a terrific run – incisive and direct – and her pass was gratefully received by Kellie White (33') who slammed it past Jackie Kintzer in the USA goal.
The second half was an equally well-matched affair with the USA demonstrating just how they had finished up as pool winners with their quick ball transfer and running at the defence with speed and commitment. The USA's first penalty corner of the match came in the 41st minute, with Lauren Crandall desperately unlucky not to direct Caroline Nichol's sweep shot past Lynch. However, true to the pattern of this game, the Hockeyroos had their first corner opportunity just two minutes later, and Anna Flanagan had her first sight of glory. Her shot was well-saved by Kintzer, and the keeper recovered sufficiently to deal with a sharp rebound from White, seeking her second goal.
The equaliser came courtesy of Kelsey Kolojejchick (48'), her total determination to win the ball synonymous with both team's approach to the game. She hassled and harried the Australia defence and scrambled the ball home.
Michelle Vitesse, whose ceaseless running was causing the Hockeyroos all sorts of bother, nearly gave the USA the lead seconds later. She pounced on a loose ball in circle, but then had a swing and miss, only to see Casey Eastham knick the ball and hare up the other end of the pitch. Anna Flanagan's second penalty corner, which came in the 52nd minute gave the Hockeyroos a 2-1 lead with a low shot to Kintzer's bottom right corner.
The final 18 minutes was played at a relentless pace. The USA came straight back at the Hockeyroos with an intensity, but Australia weathered the initial storm, and Kate Jenner was unlucky not to put the game beyond the USA's reach. But the USA pressure paid off and with just two minutes of regular time left, Kelsey Kolojejchick (68') was rewarded for her input and her shot left Lynch stranded.
The penalty shoot out saw the goalkeepers again perform brilliantly under pressure, with Lynch particularly impressive. Kellie White, Georgie Parker and Jodie Kenny scored for Australia, and Kelsey Kolojejchick scored for USA, leaving the Hockeyroos eventual winners.
Speaking after the game, coach Craig Parnham said: "We played a pretty good game today. Australia is a world class team, but we competed with them. We could have done with a few more penalty corners, but we must now move on."
Anna Flanagan, whose goal had given Australia the lead until two minutes from time, said: "They (the USA) had a really good tournament. It is a credit to the players who did a one-on-one that they were able to refocus and take the game. We are excited to be in the final and we know we need to bring our best game to that final. If it is against the Netherlands then we had our best game against them, and we can do that again."
Her colleague Ashleigh Nelson said: "That was a physical game, but I was angry that we conceded a goal at the end. I didn't think it should have been a goal, but they really came at us hard."
Captain of USA, Lauren Crandall, added: That game was probably all about us. We are relentless, we get energised when we are pressing and moving the ball forwards. We were 2-1 down and we just kept going. Now we have to refocus as we have a really big game coming up."
Official Match Report (PDF)
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