A twice-taken penalty stroke from Georgie Twigg eleven minutes after half time steered England through to a semi-final showdown with old foes Australia after a cagey affair against China in Tucumán.
Jason Lee’s side found it hard to break down a stubborn and unadventurous China side who despite not mustering a single shot at goal could easily have grabbed an equaliser late on.
The first half took a while to get going. England showed more attacking ambition but China seemed happy to get bodies behind the ball to frustrate their opponents whilst relying on Mengyu Wang’s ability to throw long aerial passes as a means to relieve the pressure and possibly steal something on the break.
England forced penalty corners after 15 and 23 minutes but both times Surbiton’s Hollie Webb was left frustrated as first she scuffed her attempted shot and then she was denied by Dongxiao Li who got down well to smother the strike.
England were pressing hard to try and force that all-important first goal and went close towards the end of the half. Nicola White did well to break round the outside of the defence on the right before finding Lily Owsley whose first-time shot went over the bar. Susannah Townsend also went close, diverting Kate Richardson-Walsh’s pass goalwards from a tight angle but her effort went wide.
The second half slipped seamlessly into the same pattern. China still showed no real attacking intent and England continued to knock at the door. Jason Lee’s team remained frustrated as Kate Richardson-Walsh had a penalty corner deflected wide by the runner. After 46 minutes came the decisive moment of the match. Lily Owsley peeled away from her marker inside the Chinese half and spread the play out to the right where the excellent Sam Quek had burst forward into space. The Reading defender’s cross caused confusion in the D and eventually fell to Susie Gilbert. The No10’s shot was stopped on the line by a defender’s foot resulting in a penalty stroke. Georgie Twigg strode forwards but sent her penalty straight at the goalkeeper who made a comfortable save. In a moment of high drama the umpires ordered the stroke to be taken again as Goalkeeper Li had advanced from her line before the ball was played. Twigg had another go and this time fired the ball into the bottom corner to the goalkeeper’s right.
Despite falling behind, China did not change their gameplan and seemingly refused to chase the game. England continued to press but were unable to create many clear chances.
With five minutes left England had another penalty corner. The defenders were out quickly again as Kate Richardson-Walsh’s drag flick was charged down. Webb pulled the loose ball down but her effort was also blocked and then Laura Unsworth was halted mid-swing as yet another defender got to the ball first. At the other end, China had a glorious chance to grab a late equaliser. Yan Yan robbed Webb just outside the D and squared it to Meiyu Liang, the No28 fluffed her lines and the ball hit her foot, England held on.
It was a patient and professional display from Jason Lee’s side. They enjoyed 67% of the possession with their opponents failing to test Maddie Hinch once throughout the 70 minutes. They now face Adam Commens’ Australia in Saturday’s semi-final after the Hockeyroos beat Germany on a shootout.