England set up a dream final with Australia with a superb performance against old foes Argentina, running out 4-2 winners in front of a packed house here in London.
Goals from Nicola White, Hannah MacLeod, Susannah Townsend and an own goal gave England their second win in 14 games against Las Leonas, bucking the recent trend of defeats.
In a see-saw opening Rosario Luchetti had the first chance of the match after mix up in the England defence. Luchetti looked set for her fifth goal of the competition, but with the goal at her mercy she somehow found only the side netting.
At the other end Alex Danson fired a lovely ball into Georgie Twigg who deflected it goal wards, but Maria Aladro saved the chance.
After a mis-trapped penalty corner broke down, Kate Walsh popped up on the left and fired an exquisite pass into the D to White. The former Slough striker opted to hit first time but could only send her effort wide of the target.
On 12 minutes England took the lead. A lovely ball from Hollie Webb out to the right found Sally Walton. The Bowdon defender advanced forwards before firing in a low cross, Hannah MacLeod was in close attendance, but the last touch came from a defender.
Lily Owsley almost made it 2-0 after being fed by Susie Gilbert she hit a reverse stick shot from a tight angle which Aladro had to deal with.
Maddie Hinch then took centre stage in a flurry of Argentinian attacks. First she saved well from Carla Rebecchi, then she twice kept out Sofia Maccari and then a penalty corner from Silvina D’Elia.
Argentina were putting England under a lot of pressure and on 26 minutes they got their equaliser. A swift counterattack resulted in Rebecchi rounding the defender and sending an unstoppable strike into the bottom corner.
Undeterred, England re-established their lead just before half time. A superb pass from Susannah Townsend found Twigg on the left, her cross was deflected in by White to make it 2-1 at the break.
Four minutes after the interval, England stretched their lead with a splendid goal. White fed the ball into space for Townsend. The Reading star showed a great turn of pace and superb vision to break down the left and cross for Macleod who had timed her run to perfection and dived in to get the vital touch to beat the goalkeeper and make it 3-1.
Two minutes later, Argentina reduced the arrears again. D’Elia’s hard-hit pass into the D deflected in off the defender for the second own goal of the match.
There was little time for the crowd to get edgy as England re-established their two goal lead just seven minutes later. Some good play from Danson let in Sally Walton on the right. Walton burst into the D and shot towards the far post where Townsend deflected the ball into the roof of the net to send the home crowd wild.
Hinch was called into action once again as she showed superb agility to turn a Luchetti pile-driver over the cross bar.
England were coming under a lot of pressure but Webb, and Walton were defending brilliantly to stem the flow of Argentina attacks, whilst Kate Walsh showed her class once again with a series of timely tackles and some much needed defensive composure.
Luciana Aymar began to step up her attacking efforts but Walton once again put her body on the line to snuff out the danger.
Argentina forced a penalty corner on the final whistle, but with the game already lost, D’Elia’s shot went wide.
Jason Lee was understandably very upbeat in the press conference: “Scoring four against a side like Argentina is great on any occasion. To do it in front of a home crowd, on a bright sunny day in a big game, well, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
For England it was a huge step forward in the squad’s development, however as captain Kate Walsh said: “We’ve played well in spells, but what we want and what Jason wants is for us to put that together for 70 minutes. Hopefully that will come against Australia.”
England vs. Australia, whatever the sporting contest is one of the biggest rivalries there is. The final, tomorrow afternoon promises to be a fantastic spectacle.