England held their nerve to clinch a bronze medal in the first-ever World League competition breaking the hosts’ hearts with a dramatic shootout victory. Not for the first time, goalkeeper Maddie Hinch was the hero with crucial saves from Delfina Merino and Julia Gomes Fantasia to give England a 4-2 win in the shootout after a 1-1 draw over the 70 minutes.
England took the lead after four minutes with a goal credited to Laura Unsworth. Hannah Macleod fed the ball to Unsworth inside the D on the right. The diminutive No4 played the ball across goal and Rocio Sanchez Moccia had two goes at clearing the ball but only succeeded in prodding it into her own net.
Having taken the lead England came under tremendous pressure from the hosts. Luciana Aymar, announced this week as the FIH World Player of the Year for the eighth time was looking menacing with a series of darting runs and slick passes driving her team forwards all the time.
With 14 minutes gone, Rosario Luchetti cut inside dangerously from the left and fired a fierce high shot that Hinch did well to turn away with her glove. Silvina D’Elia almost drew Kate Richardson-Walsh into an own goal as her hard-hit cross was deflected towards goal by the England No11, but Hinch was alert and got down to make the save.
Las Leonas should have equalised from a penalty corner in the 18th minute, Noel Barrionuevo’s flick was deflected towards Carla Rebecchi but she could only touch the ball wide at the far post. England continued to defend bravely but with three minutes to go to the break they found themselves back on level terms. Gomes Fantasia’s cross from the right was deflected in by Sally Walton for an own goal.
England could have restored their lead on the stroke of half time: a penalty corner for the home side broke down and England burst forward with numbers. The ball came to Sophie Bray in the D but she was unable to get her shot away and the scores remained 1-1.
After the break Las Leonas forced a series of penalty corners. D’Elia’s hit was seen off by some stout defending by Hannah Macleod and Luciana Aymar was unable to apply the touch when teed up by D’Elia again. At the other end, Alex Danson burst into the D and despite not connecting cleanly with her shot the bouncing ball troubled Belen Succi who just scrambled it away to safety.
Argentina continued to press and England defended bravely with Sam Quek continuing her excellent form in this tournament, ably assisted by Kate Richardson-Walsh and Sally Walton. On the occasions Las Leonas did get through they found Hinch in no mood to concede further goals. The Holcombe stopper made a good save high to her left from Rebecchi. Despite forcing a total of seven penalty corners Emmanual Roggero’s side could not find a way through and the game went to a shootout.
England went first and took the lead through Helen Richardson-Walsh before Rebecchi also found the net to level it up. Alex Danson scored with a trademark reverse stick shot but Merino, who also attempted a reverse stick effort was denied by a diving Hinch. Susie Gilbert kept her cool to roll the ball under Succi to make it 3-1 before Mariela Scarone kept her side in it. With Kate Richardson-Walsh’s effort going wide Fantasia had a chance to level it up. Hinch tracked the No29 across the D and made a fine save with her stick to make it advantage England. Sally Walton strode forward and calmly drew the goalkeeper before slotting the ball between Succi’s legs to seal the win and secure the bronze medal for Jason Lee’s side. Joyous scenes ensued with the England players mobbing Walton and Hinch. It is of course, the second time they have defeated the World No1 side in the FIH World League after a 4-2 win in round three in London in the summer. For Las Leonas it was heartbreaking to lose their second shootout in two days. The Tucuman crowd went home largely disappointed but England won’t care about that!