Australia and Netherlands recorded wins on the opening day of action at the Wanglibao Hockey Champions Trophy Changzhou Wujin 2018. The third result saw host nation China share the points with Great Britain.
Great Britain v China 2-2 (2-2)
China (WR:11) showed a real intent to play attacking hockey as they took the game to Great Britain (WR:2) in the opening match of the Wanglibao Hockey Champions Trophy.
The match was played at a high tempo with both sides showing more inclination to attack than defend. It was a problem highlighted by Great Britain's captain Hollie Peane-Webb in her role as Great Britain's captain.
"We showed a lot of energy going forwards, really using our pace," she said. "Unfortunately that sometimes left gaps but this is a new team and we will learn quickly from any errors."
The scoring was opened by Xu Wenyu of China, who slotted home a well-worked penalty corner in the seventh minute of play. This was a reward for some good attacking play, a point that captain Cui Qiuxia picked up on in her post-match interview.
"I am proud of the way the team worked today. Two things we have really improved on are our confidence and our ability to play strategically."
Great Britain equalised through Hannah Martin, the midfielder creating space for herself with her customary silky stick work, before putting the ball past Ye Xiao, leaving the teams level at half-time.
China regained their lead minutes minutes later when Yang Peng scored from open play – again capitalising on some lovely build-up play from the China midfield, particularly Zhong Mengling and Chen Yang.
Great Britain regrouped and regained their composure, with Martin, Lily Owsley and Susannah Townsend driving forwards time and again. The persistence was rewarded when Owsley was able to breeze past the Chinese defence to take the score to 2-2.
Despite some positive and, at times, combative attacking play from both sides, the scores remained equal until the final whistle.
Speaking after the game, Pearne-Webb said she was expecting her team to progress and learn rapidly over the course of this tournament. "We have a new team, with four players making their debut. We will regroup tonight, identify areas to improve and each game will see us getting better. These are intelligent players so they will learn quickly."
Cui Qixia said: "It is so great to be playing here in China, in our own 'home of hockey', in front of our fans. It has given us insight into how exciting it will be to play FIH Pro League games here next year."
Australia v Argentina 2-1 (2-0)
The second encounter of the day was a classy clash between two closely-matched teams. The game was firmly split into two halves, with Australia dominant in the first half and Argentina finding their feet in the second half.
Play was uncompromising from both teams and there was some extraordinarily skilful play from both teams.
Australia, who are currently ranked third in the FIH Hero World Rankings took the lead against Argentina (WR:4) in the 12th minute and doubled their lead just three minutes later.
The first goal was scored from open play by Rosie Malone and was the result of some innovative attacking play. Malone's goal was followed three minutes later by a belter from Rebecca Greiner. The Hockeyroos attacking force was backed-up by a very well-disciplined defensive unit.
No further goals came in the half but Las Leonas were looking shell-shocked for much of the opening 30 minutes.
If the first half belonged to the Hockeyroos, the second half was Argentina's. There were signs that Argentina were coming back into the game as the last few minutes of the half ticked down. Captain Delfina Merino was pressuring the defence and saw two rasping shots fly just wide of Ashlee Wells''s goal.
The second half was three minutes old when Maria Granatto scored a deftly-taken goal to halve the deficit and only an unwavering defence prevented Argentina from scoring an equaliser after they kept up a consistent battery of attacking moves.
Speaking after the game, Australia's captain Emily Smith spoke of her team's more adaptable approach to play.
"In the past, we were perhaps a bit rigid in the way we played; now we adapt to situations far better. We used to be all-out, now we play with a bit more thought. We play smarter."
Delfina Merino, captain of Argentina, said her team needed to realise the importance of getting off to a quicker start when playing teams at this level.
"These are some of the best teams in the world, so we have to start with the first whistle and make the most of our chances. We were much better in the second half but it was too late."
Netherlands v Japan 3-1 (0-0)
A goalless first half was unexpected given the difference in rankings between the two teams. The Netherlands are ranked number one in the world and have been in compelling form for the past 18 months, so to see the Cherry Blossoms holding their counterparts to a 0-0 scoreline for 30 minutes was a surprise.
Surprise turned to shock when Japan (WR:14) took the lead. The team had been causing all sorts of problems with their free-running style of play and their extraordinarily quick reactions that led to a lot of interceptions.
The goal was scored by Shihori Oikawa from a penalty corner, although much of the pressure in the build-up had emanated from the energetic figure of Minami Shimizu. Also playing exceptionally well was goalkeeper Megumi Kageyama, who pulled off some great saves.
The equaliser and the change in the shape of the match came when the Dutch began to play their own free-flowing hockey. A swift interchange of passes saw Marijn Veen free, with the ball, in front of goal. She needed no second invitation and, to the palpable relief of her team, she slotted home.
Minutes later an even more sumptuous movement saw three one-touch passes move the ball from the Dutch defensive quarter into the Japanese circle. Maria Verschoor was on hand to smash the ball home.
The Netherlands' triumph was made complete in the final minute of the game. Veen was left free in front of the goal after Margot Zuidhof played an inch perfect pass through to the forward to score her second goal of the match.
Speaking in a post-match interview, captain Eva de Goede spoke of the need for less experienced players to find their feet in the melting pot of international competition. "My message to the newer players is that they are wearing the shirt for a reason, so be confident and play your game."
Japan's Head Coach Anthony Farry had a similar message for his players. "I think there were times that my players were thinking about the opposition and I need them to be confident. They played very well at stage today but we need consistency and that will come from the experience of playing higher-ranked teams."
Match schedule for Sunday 18 November (all times UTC+8)
14:00 Australia v Great Britain
16:00 China v Japan
18:00 Netherlands v Argentina
DAY 1 RESULTS:
Great Britain v China 2-2
Australia v Argentina 2-1
Netherlands v Japan 3-1