Spain v Argentina

The recent FIH Women’s World Cup was unusual in that it was a split venue site with two pool matches and two cross-over game played in Amstelveen, the Netherlands, and the other two pools, plus the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final all being played in Terrassa in Spain.

This meant some of the teams, umpires and officials spent one week in the relative cool of Amsterdam, albeit with rockingly enthusiastic spectators packed into the stadium, then headed down to the cauldron that was Terrassa. For others, it was the heat of Terrassa, and the slightly surprising sight of nearly empty stadium for some of the earlier matches.

By the end of the event however the stadium in Terrassa – scene of the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games – was home from home for Argentina as the crowds packed in and the heat on the pitch was matched by the fervor in the stadium.

Director of the FIH Women’s World Cup in Terrassa, Berta Bonastre spoke of her organising committee’s desire to turn the final days into a huge hockey party, adding ‘I think we can truly say we did that.’

As the crowds cheered themselves hoarse for the semi-finals and finals, Bonastre could celebrate being part of the team that had brought hockey home to Spain.

Three teams from PAHF were represented at the event – Argentina, Canada and Chile – and all three made their own impact. Five officials also travelled from the continent to Europe to play their role, which they did in impeccable style.

Here, with the help of some of those who travelled to Europe, we look back at two glorious weeks of hockey and reflect on what the events in Amstelveen and Terrassa mean for hockey across our region.

For Chile this was a historic event from start to finish. Las Diablas brought their own inimitable style of hockey and celebration to the hockey party and they won hearts and minds along the way. Head Coach Sergio Vigil came close to being commissioned for his own television channel as his passionate outpourings to his staff, via his mouth piece were matched by waving arms and a frantic marching up and down the aisles of the stadium. When he took a minor tumble on his way from the top stand of the stadium to the half-time team talk, once he was seen to be okay, the clip went viral and Sergio became a hockey celebrity.

Out on the pitch his team were moving along the steepest of learning curves. At the start of the tournament they were overawed by the occasion and made avoidable errors as a consequence. Badly timed referrals and even worse timed cards for petty infringements marred their opening performances. They lost to Germany, although Denise Losada was delighted to score against the European giants. They then beat Ireland 1-0 which was a huge feather in their caps. Four years previously Ireland had been the giant-killers, now it was their turn to play Goliath to Chile’s David.

It was no surprise that Chile lost to the Netherlands in the final pool match and then they faced the well-prepared Belgium in the cross-over. A 5-0 loss marked the gap that Chile still have to close on the top teams.

Chile were unfortunate to come up against China on the day that the Asian side rediscovered their scoring ways. The scores remained level until the last 20 minutes of the game and then China scored three penalty corners.

The final outing was the best way for Chile to leave the tournament – with a win over the experienced South Africa team. A 13th place finish in their first World Cup, plus a move up the World Rankings: all in all, this was a really good outcome for the Diablas.

Captain of Chile is Camila Caram who has famously returned to the side after giving birth to her son Leon last year. She reflected on what the World Cup experience meant to her and the Chile team.

‘For me, as the captain it was a moment of true pride, as it was for my team and the staff. To be able to qualify for this World Cup, well we went to have fun but also to compete and I am very pleased with how we played and the results we got.

‘Personally, it was incredible after so many years of searching for a goal, to go to a World Cup and to achieve a dream was really amazing. I really treasure the moments and I will remember them for ever.’

For Caram, the pool stages provided the best moments as Chile earned their first World Cup points against Ireland. The later matches against Belgium and China were a harsh reality but one that Caram and her team had been expecting. However, wins, losses and simply being at such an event provided a heap of learning opportunities for the team.

‘We learnt that there is no easy game and you have to be on your game 100 per cent for all six matches because if you go to sleep for one minute, the other team will score a goal. To try to be consistent is very important, both from game to game but also during the match. If you let your standards slip or come away from your game plan, we quickly learnt the other teams will recognise the moment and take advantage.’

Seizing the learning opportunities presented by the World Cup was at the heart of Canada Head Coach Rob Short’s thinking as he contemplated his team’s performances. ‘You just learn how hard it is to play on this stage,’ said the two-time World Cup player. ‘It’s not easy. We played well and we can’t ask for more from the girls. It’s hard. I guess we must work harder back home but it’s been a wonderful experience and I hope we are back here sooner rather than later.’

The Wolf Pack finished the event in joint 15th position after losing to Korea in a shoot-out in their final match. Although they lost on shoot-out, matching the Korean side for 60 minutes showed that the Canadians are at a point where they can mix it with top 10 teams. The match was a personal achievement for Sara McManus who became only the third Canada women to reach 200 caps for her country.

‘I think we grew throughout the tournament,’ said Canadian captain Natalie Sourisseau, who led in fine style throughout the tournament. ‘We are disappointed in not getting a win in the tournament, but it’s been our first appearance at a World Cup in 28 years and we have to use this opportunity to recognize where the gap is between us and that next level, the Top 10, and as a collective – as a team, individuals and staff – find out what that difference is and how we can close it.’

Sourisseau’s thoughts were reflected by midfielder Hannah Haughn, whose presence at the World Cup had been in question due to a serious injury sustained earlier in the year.

‘It was a unique experience for us. We were all having a ‘first World Cup’ experience together. Being able to play the top teams on the highest stage was also unique as we don’t get to play these teams very often.

‘We had about eight individuals who had retired after the Olympic qualifiers, combine that with impact of Covid, and it is clear we didn’t get the opportunity to play many games in the past three years. So this was a great opportunity to get some new talents into the mix.’

The Wolf Pack had a tough start to the tournament, says Haughn, but they really elevated their play in the last two games when they forced both India and Korea to shoot-out.

‘On a personal level, it was nerve-wracking going into the competition,’ says Haughn. ‘I hadn’t been able to get into any of the lead-up to the World Cup so my first international game since knee injury was against host nation Spain in the opening game. I definitely felt rusty but I was ecstatic to be back after two and a half years of not playing. Stepping out under the lights against Spain was just so special.’

For Argentina it was a bitter-sweet occasion. Las Leonas sailed through the pool stages having arrived in Terrassa on an unbeaten run that extended back to the Tokyo Olympics. In the pool stages they were in rampant form, with Victoria and Maria Granatto, Agustina Albertarrio, Rocio Sanchez, Eugenia Trinchinetti and Agustina Gorzelany all showing their fine form.

In the quarter-finals Argentina met England where the two teams played out a tense and tightly contested match. A sole goal in the 47th minute from Victoria Granatto saw Argentina through to the semi-finals, but the struggle against a resolute England side signaled that things would get tougher here on in.

The semi-final between Germany was undoubtedly the match of the tournament and both sets of players should be proud of the way they competed. Fabulous 3D skills, intense but fair rivalry, four classy goals and the cruel drama of a shoot-out. The question was how much Argentina would have left in the tank for their final and biggest challenge – against the Dutch?

With pictures of Maria Granatto and Agustina Albertarrio celebrating the win over Germany with the exuberance normally reserved for a medal match, there was also the question over whether the team could raise itself to similar levels just 24 hours later.

In the end, Argentina met the Netherlands on the day that the reigning champions peaked. The Dutch had been on a slow burn throughout the tournament and, as is their style, they hit the highest note for the final. Argentina began at top pace and the Dutch contained them. Then, as the fire left the Argentinians’ bellies so the Dutch began to string together mesmerizing passages of play. The highlight of three Dutch goals was the final one. A neat series of interchanged passes between Eva de Goede and Pien Sanders then led to a quick release to Felice Albers. The speedy midfielder needed no second invitation and she ran at pace to the edge of Succi’s goal. A shift of body weight threw Succi of balance and Albers could slot the ball home. As the only team that currently looks like breaking the Dutch monopoly on the game, somehow combatting that level of excellence is Argentina’s next challenge.

Despite the loss, Argentina swept the individual honours board. Gorzelany was the tournament’s top scorer; Maria Granatto was Player of the Tournament and Belen Succi ended her international career with a Goalkeeper of the Tournament award.

The World Cup was not just the scene of fantastic hockey, it was also an event where emotion bubbled away just under the surface, erupting every now and again to add another layer to the narrative unfolding before us.

For so many players, the event was a chance to return to the international scene after the long months of Covid restrictions on travel and competing. Players approaching the twilight of their careers must have worried that they would be denied a final swan-song.

One such player was Belen Succi. As the tall goalkeeper – who has been a talisman for the Leonas since 2005 – stood sobbing her heart out during the national anthem ahead of the final versus the Netherlands, we all knew we were witnessing an emotional farewell.

The tears in the eyes of Vigil and his players ahead of their first match as they belted out the national anthem was an outpouring of the emotional journey so many players had been on to get to this point in their career.

It is not just the players and coaches who are so heavily invested in the World Cup. For the team of officials and umpires, this is often a culmination of years of hard graft to get to the top. The umpires who control the matches are unpaid and have to prepare for their World Cup in their own time. For some, the national associations are a huge support; for others, it is a personal and sometimes lonely battle to the top.

Maggie Giddens is now an established umpire for FIH international events. The USA umpire took time out to share special memories from her second World Cup experience.

‘The split venue was a quite different experience for everyone involved – teams, umpires, officials, local organizing committees. As an umpire team we were all sad to not be together for the majority of the tournament. This was very different for us but we persevered as a group and really contributed to a fantastic display of hockey for three weeks!  Both locations did a fantastic job organizing and it did not go unnoticed how much time and effort was put in at both venues.

‘It is such an honor and privilege to represent both the USA and PAHF at the World Cup. I have some huge memories: my first game umpiring Ireland against the Netherlands in Wagener stadium with 8,000 fans, a packed house and an unbelievable roar every time the Dutch went on the attack.

‘The next big memory was being a part of a game where Ireland played with 11 field players for almost 12 minutes to try and score against the Germans. No goals were scored in that time from either team, it was an astonishing match to be part of as the Irish kept flooding forward only to be met by German defence.

‘Next up, watching my good friends Annelize (Rostron), Churchy (Amber Church) and Ali (McKeogh) receive their Golden Whistles, it is really special to share these big moments together.

‘And finally, the night of the final. Well that has personal and special resonance for me. My mother, a former professional tennis umpire, has been in treatment for cancer since the start of this year. The day of the final my Mom shared great news from her most recent CT scan.  When the umpires and officials gathered on the field together after a beautiful Final I felt like I was EXACTLY where I was meant to be.  And, I cried as my teammates, my friends hugged me knowing this moment was bigger than hockey.’

As the curtain came down on the jubilant Dutch and the devastated Argentina team, the story came to an end but, for all the characters in this hockey tale, the memories will live on.