History was made on Day 2 of the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup as Italy (FIH Hero World Ranking 17) recorded their first ever win at the World Cup. Italy last featured in a World Cup in 1976, but the way they took to the top tier of international hockey in their opening game against China (WR:8) was nothing short of brilliant.
Equally brilliant was the speed of attack demonstrated by the Netherlands, as Frederique Matla scored one of the fastest goals in World Cup history.
And so to the action as eight more teams opened their Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup campaigns at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre.
While China impressed in the opening moments of their Pool A match with their expansive style of play, creating heaps of space as they moved the ball from side to side, it was the attacking intent of their much lower ranked rivals that caught the eye.
While China showed their ability and willingness to cover every inch of the field, it was the midfield dynamos of the Azzurri, Elisabetta Pacella and Maria Socino who were creating the opportunities that proved the difference between the two teams.
"We were told prior to the match to go out and play attacking hockey in the China half of the pitch," said Itay's Jasbeer Singh.
"We just grew in confidence as the match went on. This is our first World Cup for 42 years and we want to go as far as we can."
China were alerted to the danger posed by their opponents when Giuliana Ruggerieri was able to shoot at will after a sequence of passes picked a hole in the Chinese defence and left the striker free. Her shot buzzed harmlessly wide of the goal but the spectators began to sense a ranking upset might be on the cards.
The goal, when it came, was a piece of magic from Valentina Braconi. She latched onto a rebounded shot and slammed the ball past Ye Jiao in the China goal.
Just as the Italian forwards were doing their part in pressurising the China defence, so their defence was standing firm in the face of any attack. Goalkeeper Martina Chirico pulled off an amazing double save, diving first to her right and then bouncing up to dive to her left and deny China the equaliser.
The second half started in much the same vein. China played with composure when they had the ball and there were some pitch-splitting passes from left to right and back again, but when it came to direct activity towards goal, it was the Italians who seized the initiative.
The second goal for Italy came when Vitality Player of the Match Lara Oviedo slid in to deflect a penalty corner strike. The well-rehearsed move left the Chinese defence wrong-footed.
China started to get their own creative moves going as the third quarter counted down. Guo Qiu picked up the ball and weaved her way through the Italian defence before releasing Zhong Jiaqi. Her shot struck the side of the goal but the signs were there that China were responding.
Jamilon Mulders, China's Head Coach removed the 'keeper for the last two minutes of the quarter, coinciding with a green card for an Italian player, so the Asia team had a two-player pitch advantage. It was a brave move but the plan back-fired as the experienced Italian side stole possession mid-field and released Ruggieri who made no mistake as she shot home into the empty goal, taking the score to 3-0, and moved Italy briefly to the top of Pool A.
An upset looked to be on the cards in Pool C when Spain (WR:11) took an early lead against the 2014 World Cup bronze medallists Argentina (WR:3). Carola Salvatella was on hand to bat the ball from mid-air past Belen Succi in the Argentina goal and for a few minutes there was an eerie hush among the Argentina fans in the hockey arena.
Argentina's response however was swift as, five minutes later, Noel Barriounuevo swept in a penalty corner for Julieta Jankunas to deflect past Maria Ruiz.
If the equaliser was timely, the next Las Leonas goal was nothing short of brilliant. Maria Ortiz picked up the ball on the left-hand side of the Spanish circle and unleashed a shot that was perfectly placed just under the crossbar. Six games in and the Day 2 hockey spectators might have witnessed the goal of the tournament.
The third goal was a measure of Argentina's tenacity when they are at their attacking best. The initial shot was blocked by Ruiz but Delfina Merino, who had first played the ball into the circle had continued her run and slipped the rebound to Agustina Albertarrio who had an empty goal to fill.
Spain huddled and attempted to re-group but this was Las Leonas at their consummate best. Merino ran the ball into the circle and her pass to Ortiz was perfect. The striker hit the ball first time and squeezed it through the gap between post and 'keeper to take the score going into half-time 4-1.
It was captain Merino herself who benefited from the next attack. A goalmouth scramble saw the ball partially covered by Ruiz and, as the 'keeper desperately tried to clear, Merino prodded the ball over the line.
The final quarter saw Argentina hit their sixth as Noel Barriounuevo stepped up to fire home a penalty stroke after an infringement in the circle.
With the game effectively wrapped up, Argentina let their concentration slip momentarily and Spain were able to force a penalty corner. An innovative routine allowed Beatriz Perez to sweep the ball home and restore some pride for the Red Sticks.
For Spain's Head Coach Adrian Lock this was an outcome that will not impact Spain's game plan. "We always knew this would be tough," he said. "Argentina are number three in the world and we haven't played them for ten years. In so many ways it was a good game to play first because now we can reflect on today, learn from the things that didn't work and be ready for the other two pool games. We competed today, it was just a few mistakes that let us down."
Agustina Albertarrio of Argentina said that Spain's opening goal in the third minute spurred her team on. "We came into a huddle and we said, 'Come on guys, look there are 57 minutes left, let's get out and play our game'."
If Argentina were responsible for the most impressive goal of the day, then the reigning world champions scored the fastest. The opening goal in the Netherlands versus Korea game came within 20 seconds of the start, one of the speediest goals in world cup history.
"I am so pleased to have scored one of the fastest goals ever – I didn't know."
Frederique Matla, the Netherlands
And, as the goals rattled in over the course of the first half, this had all the makings of a record-breaking win too – currently something held by the former West Germany who beat Nigeria 10-1 in 1978.
The opener was scored by Frederique Matla, who was able to capitalise on some neat interchanges between her team mates to slot the ball past Bae Sora in the Korea goal.
The lead was doubled three minutes later as Lidewij Welten found her way through the Korea defence to open her World Cup account. Goals followed in quick succession, with Kitty van Male scoring twice, Matla adding a second and Laurien Leurink and Kelly Jonker all scoring before half-time.
The Korea goalkeeper was removed after the fourth goal went in, but this was the Dutch team in unstoppable form and Bae's replacement, Hwang Hyeon was also unable to stem the flow of goals.
It says something about the Netherlands approach to this game that they were back on the pitch after the half-time break long before the match was due to re-start. There was an air of simply wanting to get the job done.
Despite the Netherland's eagerness to get going in the second half, the third quarter was a quieter affair, as Korea adjusted to the pace and ferocity of the attack and marshalled their defence. The Netherlands were still creating chances but these were either hit wide, struck the post or were blocked on route to goal. The final quarter was much the same. The Netherlands held possession and created chances but the high tempo and urgent nature of their earlier attack had dissipated. This was a case of job done for the reigning champions with plenty left in reserve.
"We wanted to push for a goal in each quarter," said goal scorer Matla, "It didn't quite work out that way but I am so pleased to have scored one of the fastest goals ever – I didn't know."
In the final match of the day, Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games champions New Zealand (WR:4) faced Belgium, who won silver medal at the Rabobank EuroHockey Championships 2017. Despite a disparity in rankings, this was yet another close contest.
The half ebbed back and forth but it was New Zealand who got the breakthrough. Kelsey Smith was the scorer after her team secured a penalty corner.
Belgium were straight back at the Black Sticks defence and a ball that bobbled around the circle was finally slammed home by Louise Versavel to equal the scores.
The Red Panthers went one better a few minutes later as a visionary cross from the left side of the field found Jill Boon unmarked in the circle. The striker had no hesitation in shooting home to give her side the lead.
The half-time break proved more advantageous to the New Zealand team as they came out firing on all cylinders. Just two minutes into the half and Shiloh Gloyn equalled things up from a penalty corner and seconds later Vitality Player of the Match Olivia Merry put her side ahead as she strode into the Red Panther's circle and struck home.
For a few minutes this knocked the Belgium team back but this team under Niels Thijssen is made of stern stuff and so the game went back and forth as two hard-working teams strove to get a result.
The game was finely poised as it entered the final quarter, with Belgium creating much pressure but always looking susceptible to an attack from the supremely fit New Zealand side.
Boon had the chance to equalise when she was again found in space in the circle – her clever movement a constant thorn in the Black Sticks's side – but her shot flew visciously wide.
Belgium's push for a point from the game was thwarted when Olivia Merry converted a penalty stroke just six minutes from time.
Speaking after the game, Olivia Merry said: "The nerves were getting a bit frayed because we were the last match of the first round but we have got that out of our system now. Belgium definitely put us under pressure but we followed our plan and now we will get ready for the game against Japan."
Belgium's Jill Boon said that one of the biggest changes in the Belgium team of late is their higher fitness levels and the impact this has had on their ability to be competitive with the higher ranked teams.
Day 2: Results
China v Italy 0-3
Argentina v Spain 6-2
Netherlands v Korea 7-0
New Zealand v Belgium 4-2
Monday 23 July is a rest day so competition resumes on Tuesday 24 July when Japan face New Zealand (12:30 CEST+1) and Australia play Belgium (14:30). For all the news and information regarding the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup, London 2018 click here.Back