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Italy celebrate. Pic credit: Getty Images/FIH

Italy eclipse higher-ranked rivals at Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup, London 2018

July 27, 2018

Thunder and a deluge of rain may have marked the start of the sixth day of competition at the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup but it was a lightning strike from Italy that provided the highlight of the day.

The lowest ranked team at the tournament, competing at this level for the first time in 42 years, soaked up 59 minutes of Korea pressure and then struck with a counter that sealed them their second win and a guaranteed place in the crossover round.

The London skyline turned dark and then the rain, thunder and lightning arrived. The first game between Netherlands (World Ranking: 1) against China (WR:8) started but after a few minutes both teams were withdrawn from the pitch until the lightning had passed by.

"We are the lowest ranked team and when we saw what Ireland achieved yesterday we were so pleased as it showed that the lower ranked teams can do this." Eugenia Bianchi, Italy

Despite the impromptu break, the Netherlands continued their serene progress in the competition and emerged from the storms and extreme weather with six points and 14 goals from two matches. The Netherlands' 7-1 victory over China was a masterclass in controlling a match.

Superstar among a galaxy of stars was Lidewij Welten who scored two goals and was involved in the build-up for most of the other goals.

One of the concerns for Head Coach Alyson Annan, after the Netherland's 7-0 win over Korea, was that her team had not had a chance to practice penalty corners, with all the goals in that match coming from open play.

Welten answered her coach's demands when she won a penalty corner in the seventh minute, her run around the back of the China defence resulting in a penalty corner. As Caia van Maasakker strode up to take up position at the top of the circle there really was only one outcome.

"Certainly we always want to practice penalty corners as much as we can," said Eva de Goede after the game, "But we scored seven field goals and only actually won one penalty corner, so it was good to score one today."

"We always want to get an outcome when we go into the circle," added Margot van Geffen. "Whether that is a penalty corner or a goal doesn't matter but our aim is always to get an outcome."

The 1-0 lead was extended when Kelly Jonker jinked her way through the China defence to score her second goal of the tournament.

Laurien Leurink joined the party when she made it 3-0. Her goal resulted from a quick counter attack which started with Netherlands goalkeeper Annie Veenendaal. The 'keeper pulled off a great save and her clearance found Eva de Goede who in turn found Leurink. Her finish was as high in quality as Veenendaal's save.

China came out for the second half with a renewed sense of urgency and a quick attack earned them their only penalty corner of the game. This was dealt with by the Dutch defence and business resumed as Welten scored two goals, including one which was knocked into the goal by a Chinese defender.

The knowledgable crowd in the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre were impressed with this virtuoso performance but the biggest cheer went up when China scored their first goal of the tournament. Yong Jing picked up the ball from a wayward Dutch pass and drove into the circle. Her reverse stick shot was wicked and flew past Veenendaal into the top corner. Her celebrations were worthy of a cup final.

Order was restored as Kitty van Male added her name to the score-sheet and the Dutch were able to celebrate another job well done.

"There are still things we can improve upon," said de Goede. "Our strength as a squad is that we trust ourselves and play the way we want to play. We scored a lot of team goals and that was very good. Most importantly, we are having fun."

It was last minute joy for Italy in the second Pool A match as Valentina Braconi slotted the ball home in the final minute of the game, meaning the lowest ranked team has a guaranteed place in the crossover matches.

It was no easy task for Italy (WR:17) however. Korea (WR:9) had suffered a battering in their opening Pool A game at the hands of the Netherlands but the four day break seemed to have done the team morale some good as they came out with renewed energy and intent in their match against Italy.

The Italians in contrast had enjoyed a solid 3-0 victory over China and started the game with confidence in their game plan – a quality that a good start to a tournament can instil. The result was a high-energy and intriguing encounter.

Against common perceptions, the European team were the more disciplined and defensive of the two teams, particularly in the opening half, while the Korea team were playing innovative and attacking hockey.

The first half ended goalless but this was no static encounter. Korea banged the ball around the pitch with fluidity but could find no way through the Italy attack.

The second half saw a lot of canny play by both teams. Italy lost a player to a green card and instantly the Korea team poured forward. But Italy are a tactically astute side and Agata Wybieralska in particular was very strong as she defended the top of the circle.

At the other end, Lara Oviedo and Dalila Mirabella made some tricksy little runs to put Korea under pressure. Cho Hyein had the perfect opportunity to pout her side ahead when she received the ball in front of the Italy goal. Her first touch let her down and the momentary halt to play gave the Italian defence time to regroup.

At this point of the game, Korea were in the ascendency and their constant pressure was finally rewarded with their first penalty corner of the tournament. The routine was innovative but Vitality Player of the Match Martina Chirico was quick to react and she just got a glove to the ball. Italy had two penalty corners of their own but were also unable to convert.

As the time counted down, the efforts by both teams increased. Korea won their second penalty corner and Cheon Seul Ki lined up to make her assault on the goal. Her shot was vicious but Chirico was up to the challenge and cleared.

The moment of Italian magic happened just as everyone in the stadium had settled on a drawn result. A quick break saw a goalmouth scramble and Valentina Braconi was on hand to slot home the winner.

"We are so pleased to come here and make history," said a delighted Eugenia Bianchi. "We are the lowest ranked team and when we saw what Ireland achieved yesterday we were so pleased as it showed that the lower ranked teams can do this." 

The results from today's matches mean that Netherlands and Italy are both on six points but the Netherlands have a superior goal difference. China and Korea both have zero points, so Sunday's match is vital for one of the Asian teams to avoid an early exit from the competition.

Speaking after the game, Park Mihyun said that her team need to make sure they convert their chances, as they had a lot of opportunities to score but failed to make them count. She added that her team had to go out and play with confidence against China, despite the two disappointing results.

Day 6: Results

China v Netherlands 1-7 
Korea v Italy 0-1

The action continues on Saturday 28 July at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre as a full day of action sees Spain (WR:11) face Germany (WR:6) at 12:00 (CEST+1). Then it is Argentina (WR:3) against South Africa (WR:14) at 14:00. Japan (WR:12) will play Belgium (WR:15) at 18:00, and then New Zealand go head-to-head with Australia at 20:00.

For all the news about the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup, click here.

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