Tears of anguish may have flowed after the loss to the Netherlands in the semi-final, but Luciana Aymar was crying tears of joy and pain after coming on the pitch, despite an obviously painful injury, to score two fabulous goals and inspire her team to the bronze medal in this World Cup. And with coach Carlos Retegui announcing he will be stepping down as coach to Las Leonas after the game, it was also a fitting tribute to the charismatic coach that he leaves this world cup with at least one medal.
An opening goal, batted in by none other than Luciana Aymar (8'), opened this thrilling bronze medal match and demonstrated that the location of hockey's powerhouse may be making a geographic shift towards the Americas. That minutes later Lauren Crandall (11') was able to equalise from what has now become a trademark goal for the USA – a slip to the far post by Caroline Nichols – is further evidence, if any is needed, that the USA's run of form at this World Cup is no fluke. However, it was Aymar’s second goal, scored in the 21st minute, proved to be enough for Argentina to walk away with the medals.
The match got off to a cracking start with each team playing their own particular brand of hockey. The USA went route one for goal from the off, and when they were dispossessed the whole team worked hard to regain both possession and the initiative. Argentina played with the flair and ambition that was so noticeably lacking from their previous game against the Netherlands. The future of Las Leonas is in safe hands if the evidence of today is anything to go by, with 21-year-old Florencia Habif – surely a contender for Young Player of the Tournament – running riot among the USA defence.
Action flowed from end-to-end, with the USA attacking the Argentina goal via the speed and directness of Melisssa Gonzalez and Katie O'Donnell, while at the other end of the pitch, Habif and Delfina Merino were busy creating space and opportunity. The first scoring opportunity went to Argentina who won two consecutive penalty corners. However, goalkeeper Jackie Kintzer, who has had a fabulous tournament, was equal to the task and kept the Aymar drag flicks out.
Aymar's first goal came from a cross by Rocio Sanchez. Her shot was flying wide, but the eight times FIH Player of the Year was perfectly placed to bat the ball past Kintzer. The goal didn't phase the USA, a team whose collective mental fortitude has been one of their strengths during this tournament. Straight back up the pitch they went and captain Lauren Crandall was able to slip home the equaliser.
Argentina's finest gave the initiative back to Las Leonas in the 21st minute as she received a pass from Merino and with deft control slammed home to restore the lead. She was also close to extending the lead with seconds on the clock when Kintzer pulled off a remarkable save from a close shot. The teams went into the half-time break with the scores tantalisingly poised at 2-1 to the world number two team.
The second half was played at full pelt, with ball possession switching from side-to-side. Brutally uncompromising defence from Crandall and Dawson kept the silky skills of Sanchez and her fellow forwards out of the circle, and at the other end, the USA players were running with confidence at the Argentina defence. Kelsey Kolojejchick came close to evening it up with a full-length dive onto a cross from Katie O'Donnell at the 40 minute mark, but the ball was just wide of her out-stretched stick. The 'keeper Maria Mutio was also called into play and batted away a shot from an industrious Kathleen Sharkey.
More pressure from Argentina resulted in a penalty corner, but the trap was mistimed and the counter-attack led to a sustained press on the Argentine defence.
USA came close to grabbing an equaliser on two occasions in the last 15 minutes, with Kathleen Sharkey firing a backhand effort wide of the target before the team failing to convert a penalty corner in the dying stages.
Despite the pain of defeat, USA captain Lauren Crandall said that her team can leave this event with their heads held high, having finished six places above their world ranking. “Right now there is a feeling of disappointment, but I think that it affirms that we are going in the right direction and fills us with pride.”
“We are pleased with the way we have done over the past couple of weeks”, said USA coach Craig Parnham. “It was a tight game, but overall I am proud of how the girls have performed not just over the past two weeks but also over the last eight months. As a tenth ranked team to come here and finish fourth is good and justifies the work that the girls have been doing.”
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