It was to be tears before bedtime at the Riverbank Arena as Argentina’s superb, controlled display broke the hosts’ hearts in a thoroughly absorbing encounter.
With the whole country behind them, Great Britain set up with a high press trying to push their opponents back into their own half. However, despite this, after five minutes Argentina won the game’s first penalty corner. Noel Barrionuevo stepped up and beat Beth Storry, low to her left to score her second goal of the tournament.
With the crowd quietened down by the early setback Argentina began to assume control of the game. Luciana Aymar was inevitably at the heart of it, probing and urging her team forwards in her usual elegant style.
As she had done in the Champions Trophy final, Helen Richardson was going toe-to-toe with the seven times FIH World Player of the year. The Reading midfielder was unlucky not to win a penalty corner after being fouled by Barrionuevo and was starting to pull the strings needed to get her side back to level terms.
With Great Britain dominating possession and Argentina hitting on the break, the game was becoming a big test for both defences. Georgie Twigg burst forwards and finally found some space, but Ashleigh Ball was unable to bring the pass under her spell and the chance was gone.
Aymar threatened once more as she made her way along the baseline, only to be smothered by the onrushing Beth Storry, with the rebound going agonizingly over the bar. Las Leonas’ captain afforded herself a wry smile, but knew it was a great chance.
At the other end, Alex Danson collected Ball’s pass in the D with her back to goal. With seemingly limited options, the Reading star spun and shot narrowly wide.
Argentina doubled their advantage before half time, ending a good period of dominance from the home side. Luciana Aymar’s long run down the left wing got the ball forward to Carla Rebecchi. Still with plenty to do, Rebecchi drew Beth Storry and somehow moved the ball around the goalkeeper and into the goal with seemingly no space to work in. It was a splendid piece of skill from the No11. GB were adamant there had been an infringement in the build up, but were unable to call for a referral as it occurred outside the 25.
Great Britain started the second half with renewed purpose. They forced an early penalty corner, but Macarena Rodriguez Perez was out quickly to charge down Crista Cullen’s flick. Minutes later Ball had a good chance but couldn’t direct her shot on target, whilst Danson saw her slapped effort saved by Maria Florencia Mutio. Great Britain were certainly getting closer.
Then came the best chance of the match: Emily Maguire’s cross popped up off Danson’s stick. The ball fell to Helen Richardson, who had time to control the ball and steady herself. She uncharacteristically scuffed her shot and the chance had gone begging.
With five minutes left on the clock Great Britain gave themselves a lifeline. Helen Richardson’s superb cross was expertly diverted into the goal by the sliding Alex Danson.
With the crowd roaring them on, Great Britain were desperately trying to find an equaliser to take the tie to extra time. There was still time for a fine save from Beth Storry, but the home side couldn’t muster another chance and Las Leonas held on for the win.
It was a bitter pill to swallow and as the Argentina players celebrated, many of the Great Britain players sank to their knees in tears, as their dreams of Olympic gold had vanished. The home side can be exceptionally proud of their efforts. They created more chances and had more possession than their opponents, but in the end, Argentina had just too much for them. Las Leonas defended superbly, getting bodies in the right places and making it extremely difficult to create any chances of note. Argentina march on to the gold medal match where they will face the Netherlands, whilst Great Britain will have to pick themselves up to try and overcome New Zealand to win the bronze medal.