Going into the last round of pool matches, incredibly the only guaranteed quarter-finalist remained Ireland. As the opening match got underway – a Pool C, all-Europe affair between Spain (WR:11) and Germany (WR:6) – it was still possible for all 16 teams to qualify.
By the end of the two Pool C matches, things had been sorted with Germany emerging as the very deserving pool winners, with Argentina (WR:3) taking second place, which means they will play the cross-over match against the third placed team from Pool D. Spain will take on the second-placed team in Pool D.
South Africa (WR:14), who failed to win any of their pool matches were the first team to exit the tournament, but not before they earned a point against Argentina – the first time they had taken points from the world number three team in a major international since their 2-2 draw at the Madrid World Cup in 2006.
In the opening match, it was Spain who made the brightest start. The Red Sticks won a penalty corner and, with their recent success on the set-piece, Germany were right to line up with apprehension. The excellent Julia Ciupka was up to the challenge however and the ball was cleared to safety.
"We don't have one or two star players, we are a team who works hard for each other" Franzisca Hauke
Germany quickly created their own opportunity when Lena Micheel burst through with her devastating speed and flair. The result was a penalty corner which was worked beautifully. Anna Schröder injected the ball and the switch back to her from the top of the circle caught Spain totally unawares. Schröder lifted the ball high over Maria Ruiz in Spain's goal and Germany were on their way.
In the second quarter, Spain again came out the faster and started to play very creative hockey to get behind the German midfield. Germany reacted to the challenge by strengthening their presence in midfield and cutting out Spain's route to goal. Selin Oruz, Viktoria Huse and Janne Müller-Wieland were central to stemming the Spanish flow.
As the quarter counted down, a mazy run by Begona Garcia earned Spain their second penalty corner of the match. The ball was played in and bounced high in the air. Quickest to react was Xantel Gine, who plucked the ball from the air and angled it into the goal.
Georgia Oliva burst through to win Spain's third penalty corner but this time Germany were alive to the threat of the Red Sticks penalty corner variations and the slipped pass was cut out.
A quick German counter led to Germany's own penalty corner opportunity. The shot was high and dangerous but Ruiz rose to the challenge and gloved the ball away. Still Germany pushed and just seconds later restored their lead when Oruz was on hand to push the ball home after Hannah Gablac had taken the ball around the back of the Spanish defence.
The lead was increased further when Viktoria Huse's penalty corner flew emphatically towards the goal. Marie Mävers showed her poacher's instinct in front of goal as she got the lightest of touches to score her first goal of the tournament.
Germany nearly made it four as the ever-dangerous Lisa Altenburg ran the ball from her own circle. Her wicked cross eluded everyone, including teammate Gablac who was just unable to get on end of it.
Spain's Berta Bonastre was pragmatic as she spoke after the game. "We were definitely competitive out there today but we made some little mistakes and they were the difference between us and Germany today. It was the same with our match against Argentina. It was not a 6-2 game, but we made mistakes which were punished.
"It is frustrating because we are there, we are competing, we get penalty corners. We win or lose games in the circle and it didn't go for us today," she added.
Vitality Player of the Match Franzisca Hauke said: "We don't have one or two star players, we are a team who works hard for each other. Since 2014 we have had a lot of changes. Germany was known as the hardest nation when it comes to defending but now we are playing a really attacking game as well. We want to shoot more goals, it is not enough to just defend our goal. We are also much more fit than we were four years ago, and that is key.
"Xavier Reckinger (Head Coach) has a good eye for positioning: for example, Anne [Schroeder] and myself used to play central, now we are wide and can use our speed much better. That works well."
The second match between Argentina and South Africa was the final Pool C match, with the African continental champions needing a huge win to overturn their goal deficit and move above Spain in the pool placings.
For Argentina, Germany's earlier success over Spain meant Las Leonas could not top their pool and so even a win would see them go to the cross over stage of the competition and face the third placed team from Pool D.
There was an air of tension in the Leonas squad that suggested they were desperate to put on a good performance, both for their loyal fans and for their own self-confidence.
The first half was a perfect example of a team setting up a defensive wall and stopping anything in its tracks. Argentina threw everything at the South Africa defence in the opening moments. Vitality Player of the Match Phumelela Mbande in South Africa's goal was in outstanding form but also had an element of luck on her side as she parried and blocked everything that was thrown at her.
The world number three side had numerous opportunities, with one of the best falling to Maria Granatto after Agustina Albertarrio had burst down the right hand side of the pitch and crossed straight across the South Africa goal.
No-one could have predicted what happened in the last two seconds of the first half. A break from South Africa found Lilian du Plesis, who struck a brilliant ball into the Argentina circle. Jade Mayne was quickest to the bouncing ball. She chopped it down into the ground and both Argentina's defenders and South Africa's strikers watched as it squeaked past Belen Succi into the Argentina goal.
"That was a great moment," said Nicolene Terreblanche after the game. "When you saw that goal, the belief came flooding in. Moments like that just help you get momentum as a team."
After the half-time break, Argentina resumed their position camped in the South Africa half of the pitch. They probed and probed to try and find a way through but, even as the number of penalty corners racked up, the equaliser proved elusive.
The pressure mounted as the third quarter counted down. South Africa stood firm and protected their lead but the attacks from the blue and white shirts came thick and fast. The breakthrough came from a moment of brilliance from Maria Granatto, who latched onto a bouncing cross and turned it goalwards. The striker's celebrations loosened a little of the tension that had crept into the Argentina side.
By the end of the 60 minutes, Argentina had notched up 26 shots and 13 penalty corners in contrast to South Africa's two shots. It was a point about which Argentina Head Coach Agustin Corradini expressed some concern.
"What I saw out there was a team who had too much energy and no thinking. There was an air of desperation and going forward too quickly. We had 13 penalty corners and we didn't score. That is too many opportunities for only one outcome.
Speaking after the game, South Africa's Nicolene Terreblanche explained that the team went onto the pitch determined to get a result from their final pool match.
"We had nothing to lose. We said 'flip guys, we need to be one-on-one solid defensively,' and we did that. And our 'keeper, she was phenomenal today. In the first game we didn't do well, you cannot afford to start the tournament how we did. If you can play well from the first game then you get into a stronger position and you get momentum."
Argentina and Spain's opponents will be revealed after the second session of matches involving the four teams in Pool D.
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