England set up a mouth-watering tie with Argentina in Saturday’s semi final as they held off a late charge from underdogs Italy to win 3-2. A brace from Alex Danson and a goal for Hannah Macleod, on her 50th England appearance gave the home side the result they wanted in the London rain.
England got off to a dream start as on three minutes. It was a sweeping move out of defence with Susie Gilbert playing a lovely pass out to the left where a marauding Kate Walsh collected the ball and fired it to the back post where Danson applied the finishing touch.
The lead lasted just four minutes. Italy initially forced the ball home from close range, however the goal was downgraded to a penalty corner on video referral. Undeterred, Italy scored from the penalty corner as Chiara Tiddi’s shot was saved, only for Macarena Ronsisvalli to score the rebound to make it 1-1.
England went close to a second goal as Danson fired the ball across where it was propelled goalwards by a defender, Martina Chirico did well to push the ball onto the woodwork before getting another glove onto it to clear the danger.
Sophie Bray showed superb skill and awareness with a brave run into the D, she fed the ball to Georgie Twigg who stabbed it goalwards only for Chirico to somehow get a stick on the ball and keep it out.
England then struck twice in a minute. First, Danson showed good link up play to feed Ashleigh Ball out wide, the England No.22’s driven cross was expertly turned in by Macleod to re-establish the lead. Danson then grabbed her second as a wonderful through pass from Macleod split the defence and sent the Reading striker galloping clear. She calmly rounded the goalkeeper and buried the chance to make it 3-1.
Italy forced a penalty corner early in the second half. Tiddi hit the shot which was well saved by Maddie Hinch and Hollie Webb blocked the rebound. Hinch then made a save with her helmet and another good stop to deny Giuliana Ruggieri as Italy continued to press for another goal.
In the 56th minute, Italy successfully referred from open play to gain a penalty stroke. Agustina Di Bernardo stepped up, and for the second time in this competition, Hinch got a good stick to the penalty but couldn’t keep it out.
With the crowd getting nervy England pushed for the all-important next goal. Lily Owsley cut in dangerously from the right and hit a reverse stick shot wide. Owsley had an even better chance near the end as she found herself one-on-one with the goalkeeper. She went around Chirico but was unable to find the finish.
England were able to run out the clock and kept the lead intact to take their place in the semi-final against Argentina.
Jason Lee, speaking afterwards was positive about his team’s efforts: “I’m overjoyed we managed to get the win. Italy are playing well above their ranking and will do well in the European competition.” he added: “I think at 3-1 we started to run out of legs and some nerves crept in, but i’m delighted with the fight the girls showed.”
Fernando Ferrarra, the Italy coach was also very happy: “It was a great experience for us and a close game. I’m happy with the performance but not the result. We gave it our all but couldn’t quite do it.”
England will now face Argentina in what is surely the tie of the tournament so far. Italy face off against South Africa and will hope to finish the competition strongly.