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Germany hits top form against Las Leonas while Danson celebrates 200 caps with goal against USA

July 25, 2018

Fireworks, flame throwers, if this summer wasn't hot enough, then things at the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup has just gone into inferno mode.

First up was a sizzling encounter between two of the teams that must consider themselves contenders for medals at this event, Germany (FIH Hero World Ranking: 6) and Argentina (WR:3). this was followed by a tense and nervy affair between two teams who made stuttering starts to their world cup campaign, host nation England (WR:2) and USA (WR:7).

While the largely English crowd were here to cheer on their team, and in particular captain Alex Danson who received her 200th England cap, they could not fail to be dazzled by the quality of the preceding match, in which Germany registered a 3-2 win to cement their place at the top of Pool C.

A 1-1 draw between USA and England means that Pool B remains wide open, with Ireland leading the way on three points, with England on two points and India and USA on a point apiece.

The first match of the evening saw two well-matched but completely contrasting teams take to the pitch for the second round of matches in Pool C.

Germany had beaten South Africa by a convincing 4-1 scoreline in the opening match of the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup, while Argentina had completed an even more comprehensive demolition of Spain when they racked up six goals and conceded just two.

Despite the Argentina team's reputation for starting quickly, it was Germany who took the lead in the fifth minute when Hannah Gablac slotted home for her first goal of the World Cup. She picked up the ball with her back to goal, twirled and slotted home past Belen Succi in the Argentina goal.

For the next few minutes it was all Germany as they won a series of penalty corners. To their collective disappointment they failed to capitalise on these and were made to pay in the 14th minute when Florenica Habif turned some intense Argentine pressure into an equalising goal.

Germany re-took the lead four minutes into the second quarter when Charlotte Stapenhorst was on hand to slap home the ball after some tricky stick skills from Elisa Grave. The 21 year-old showed great composure to hold possession as she manoeuvred past the Argentina sticks and Stapenhorst's shot was enough to change the direction of attack and flummox Succi.

The third goal was a belter of a shot from Stapenhorst. The striker, who has clearly hit form at just the right time, took the ball wide into the Argentina circle and then, ignoring the Argentina defender who was shadowing her, unleashed a shot that flew into the goal at head height.

Argentina nearly pulled one back as Noel Barrionuevo sent a shot past Julia Ciupka's goal but the speed of the German counter was astounding and the 2014 bronze medallists came perilously close to conceding a fourth.

The ebb and flow nature of the game meant that no sooner had Argentina withstood that attack than they were creating their own chances. Maria Ortiz was in the perfect position to reduce the deficit to one goal as she slipped the ball past Ciupka.

If Ciupka was annoyed at letting that goal in, she more than redeemed herself with the point blank range save she made at the start of the second half. The ball was struck with ferocity by Julieta Jankunas but Ciupka reacted quickly to palm the ball to safety.

The remainder of the game may have remained scoreless but it was full of excitement and drama as Argentina sought a third goal and Germany used every ounce of their experience to hold onto the narrow lead.

"I think that was a great game of hockey tonight," was German captain Janne Muller-Wieland's verdict on the game.

"It was so exciting to play in front of that crowd and I think the British really appreciate a good sporting spectacle."

Talking about her own team's performance, she said that the team had worked hard to control the tempo of the game and one of the things that was adding to the German team's performance was the well balanced composition of the squad, where some speedy young players are lending well with the experienced core of Die Danas.

A capacity crowd, a pyrotechnics display and the knowledge that a win was crucial was enough to set nerves jangling for both England and USA.

There was visible tension in the faces of both squads as they lined up for the national anthems. Alex Danson was able to muster a smile as the crowd and players acknowledged her 200th cap for England – a figure that catapults her into a rarefied group of players who have represented England 200 times (this does not include Great Britain caps).

"Everyone gets goosebumps when the crowds get behind us and when Alex scored that was just another level." Laura Unsworth, England

The opening half was a cagey affair with both sides probing for breaks in their opponent's defence but staunch defending meant the teams entered the half-time break at 0-0.

This did not mean there was any lack of action. Hannah Martin used her speed to create space but missed her shot. Michelle Vitesse sparked an attack that saw Maddie Hinch pull off a tremendous save in the England goal and then Jackie Briggs was called on to make a save as Susannah Townsend's shot sent the ball high in the air and off the cross bar. Briggs was quickest to the ball and thwarted the incoming England attackers.

Possibly the moment of the World Cup, from a host nation perspective, took place in the 34th minute when Alex Danson weaved her way through the USA defence and slotted the ball home to give England the lead.

The roar of the crowd was ear-splitting and for a few minutes England looked in the ascendency.

But USA are not a team to ever give up and, in the shape of teenager Erin Matson, they have a fearless striker. Matson picked the ball up on the wide left and drove towards the circle. Her position seemed innocuous but the shot that rasped off her reverse stick left Hinch stranded and the scores even.

As the game counted down, the tempo rose in both camps and the work rate of the athletes reached even higher levels.

Sophie Bray was in a race to the ball with Briggs, which left the England player in a heap. There was no quarter given by either team as they both searched for the elusive breakthrough. A tremendous save by Hinch in the closing seconds of the game was met with a sigh and as the teams trooped off the pitch it was clear both sets of players could not have given more.

"That was tough," was Laura Unsworth's reaction as she reflected on the game. "I think we limited USA to just a few chances, in fact I only really remember the shot that led to the goal. Two very fit teams were going at each other which will always result in a tight game."

Unsworth also reflected on the moment Danson scored her goal. "It was a very special moment, on the occasion of her 200th cap. Everyone gets goosebumps when the crowds get behind us and when Alex scored that was just another level."

Erin Matson, who scored USA's goal said: "We have played in front of big crowds but nothing like that. Our team is good at embracing that and running with the energy and I personally love a loud crowd. It did go a bit silent after I scored.

"Our way to think about things is to move on and take it one game at a time. We didn't play to our strengths in the first game so tonight it was about playing for us and not worrying about what we need to do about the other team. 

"Without the pass from Gonz (Melissa Gonzalez) I wouldn't have scored. She held the ball and fed it at the perfect moment. It happens quite a bit in practice and I am confident on my reverse."

Thursday 26 July sees Spain (WR:11) take on South Africa (WR:14) at 12:00 (CEST+1) – another must-win game to avoid bottom place in Pool C. This is followed by India (WR:10) against Ireland (WR:16) at 14:00 (CEST+1).

For a full schedule and all the news from the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup, click here.


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