India and England both hit form at the right time to win through to the quarter-finals of the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup. While India discovered scoring ways to finally end Italy's World Cup adventure with a 3-0 win, England's creative players still struggled to turn chances to goals against a defiant Korea defence.
The difference between India (WR:10) and Italy (WR:17) was the first touch control and the ability to finish an attacking move successfully. When it came to bravery in defence you could not fault the Italian's approach but when you saw the speed, agility and confidence of the Eves as this game progressed, the outcome became more and more obvious.
India won the first penalty corner of the game and although it was charged down by Ivanna Pessina, the subsequent ball in from India proved too clever for the Azzurre to deal with. Vitality Player of the Match Lalremsiami was on hand to lift the ball past Martina Chirico in the Italian goal after the ball was quickly switched across the circle by Vandana Katariya.
"Siami is the youngest player in our team (19) and I remember how, when I was 15, I played in my first World Cup and it was just so exciting," said captain Rani. "She brings an extra energy that we feed off."
The lead was nearly extended at the start of the second quarter as Lalremsiami was found in plenty of space but was unable to control the ball well enough to beat the rapidly advancing Chircio.
The second half saw Italy come out and begin to play a more attacking game. Jasbeer Singh and Lara Oviedo were both instrumental in creating chances, although when they managed to get the ball to the high-playing Valentina Braconi, she was dealt with by the impressive Lilima Minz in defence.
India were unfortunate not to extend their lead when a quick counter attack saw the ball skim past Chirico's goal after a shot by Deepika.
Still India piled on the pressure and good work by Monika down the Indian right-hand side was rewarded by a penalty corner in the final minute of the third quarter. This resulted in a goal mouth scramble which Neha Goyal converted to make it 2-0.
It was nearly three as Navjot Kaur was left with just Chirico to beat but the 'keeper showed her class as she stood up to the shot and Pessino cleared the pads.
The game was finally put beyond doubt when Vandana Katariya was rewarded with a goal in the 55th minute. A 3-0 scoreline was a reflection of the more attacking approach of India. The result means India now face Ireland on Thursday 2 August, an encounter that Rani is anticipating with relish.
"We have gained confidence throughout this tournament," she said. "Early in the tournament we didn't do the one thing we needed to do – score goals. But we have found the net now and we can definitely push on with our journey. We do not see that journey ending on Thursday."
Despite the loss and exit from the tournament, Italy's captain Chiara Tiddy was upbeat about her team's performance.
"We have created history and more importantly we have shown that we are more than capable of competing at this level," said the experienced defender who has been so instrumental in her team's progress.
"We need to push on now and build on all we have learnt. We have more confidence in our ability after this tournament. I hope that we will now see more investment into Italian hockey so we can keep competing at the top level. We have definitely not been out of place here. I am very proud of the whole team."
In the second crossover match between England and Korea, the host nation came out to play with an intensity and fluidity that had been missing for some of their earlier matches. Suddenly the passes were connecting, the runs were better-timed and chances were being created.
Korea were missing Park Mi Hyun, which is a big loss to the world number 9 as the striker is so often the driving force for many of the Asian team's attacks. At the other end of the pitch, Korea's goalkeeper Hwang Hyeon was called into action early and demonstrated that she was on form and it would be a tough ask to get past her.
The move that did beat Hwang was a mix of high quality control and determined scrambling. First Vitality Player of the Match Sarah Haycroft brought an aerial ball down with a sumptuous display of ball control.
Her first shot was saved by Hwang but Sophie Bray latched onto the ball and was able to nudge it home. As the stadium erupted a new sense of confidence seemed to run through the England team.
The possession rates at half time told the story, England had 65 per cent of possession and had taken 10 shots. Korea had not troubled England's goalkeeper Maddie Hinch once. Among the England moves was a beautiful interception and run by Hannah Martin. Her cross just eluded Townsend who was arriving at speed at the far post. In another move, Alex Danson was clear on goal but, unusually for her, didn't convert the chance.
After half time it was much of the same. England continued to push but the second goal continued to evade the England strikers. Time and again the players made fantastic runs and there were some lovely patterns of play but the final goal refused to come.
Korea also made their first incursion into the England circle, Cheon Seul Ki received the ball but her shot was just wide.
"We knew that is how Korea would play," said Haycroft. "They tend to sit deep and then spring forward, so we needed to get into those pockets and control it."
That famous Korea counterattack nearly happened in the 54th minute when An Hyoju broke throught the England defence and fired a shot at Hinch. Head Coach Huh Sang Young removed the 'keeper and Korea kept piling forwards.
To the England defence's credit they didn't panic and the game was put beyond reach when Lily Owsley set off on a trademark sprint and finished with a shot that sealed the win and sent England through to a quarter-final encounter with the Netherlands.
"We were connected today and created lots of opportunities," said Haycroft. "It showed that we were all on the same page today and we have grown from day to day.
"We are so looking forward to playing the Dutch in front of a home crowd. The crowd will relish it as much as we will. The last time the Dutch played us on this ground was the EuroHockey Final in 2015 which we won. We have learned to tweak things through this tournament. The Dutch by contrast haven't started well but haven't been punished for it so we will try to hit them hard from the start."
The result means England will now face the world number one side, The Netherlands at 20:15 (UTC) on Thursday 2 August. India will play Pool C winners Ireland in the earlier match at 18:00.
Tomorrow's action sees Germany (WR:6) take on Spain (WR:11) at 18:00, followed by Australia against Argentina at 20:15.