The fifth women’s Pan American Cup threw up a new player on the scene as Chile pulled off a shock defeat of the USA to set up a final with Argentina. This was the first time in the Cup’s history that the final was not contested by the two heavyweights of the PAHF hockey scene, Argentina and USA.
Chile, currently ranked 20th in the world, had sent a warning shot in the opening match of the tournament when they lost to Argentina (ranked number three in the world) by just a narrow 2-1 scoreline. They brushed past Uruguay 2-0 to set up a semi-final with USA, who had just returned from a gold medal-winning excursion to the Hockey World League Semi-Finals in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The semi-final match was a thriller from start to finish, with two goals in the last two minutes of play giving the berth in the final to Chile. The 4-3 match had the crowd on the edge of their seat as first USA took the lead, then Chile, then USA drew equal before Denise Krimerman put Chile ahead again. In the 59th minute of play Amanda Magian thought she had sent the match to shoot-out but Krimerman popped up a few seconds later to grab the winning goal and the glory. It was a performance that sealed her award as Player of the Tournament.
Talking to PAHF journalist Sarah Juggins a few weeks after that bittersweet time, Denise Krimerman reflects back on Chile's performance: “I think we came into the Pan American Cup on the back of a good tournament at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals in Johannesburg. It gave us a reason to believe in ourselves at the Copa América (Pan Am Cup).”
Chile had arrived in Johannesburg for their debut Hockey World League Semi-Final appearance as the lowest ranked team but had recorded a win over South Africa (WR: 13) in the pool games and a win over Poland (WR:18) in the classification round. They had also been far from outplayed in their other matches. Krimerman and her team mates had reason to feel confident.
“An incredible moment was the Pan Am Cup semi-final [against USA], when we were tied at 3-3 with just a minute to go,” said the striker. “We got together in the middle and said that there was a lot of time left so we had to go for another goal and that was how it turned out. Besides being a historic result for Chile, it was an outcome that the team needed after so much training.”
Chile won plaudits and fans for the way they had approached the HWL and the Pan Am Cup. They played innovative and attacking hockey, which both threw their opponents but also left some gaps in defence, which the more experienced teams were able to exploit. Krimerman says there was some frustration among the team that they didn't finish higher in the HWL as they had some very close matches, losing by just one goal. A higher placed finish would have left them close to a World Cup qualification spot. However, she is pleased with the way the team answered the coach’s call for a more ambitious style of play. “We broke structures and tried new things and, on the whole, they worked.”
By the time Chile were all set to face Argentina, a hint of fatigue had crept into the side. “We had played more matches at a higher standard than we are used to,” says Krimerman. “It is something we have learnt to do and we want to keep working at that level”.
“During the match, we started on a par but as the game went on they started to stand out individually at critical times.”
Krimerman is accurate in her description, for the first 40 minutes, Chile were able to hold the blue and white team at bay and continue to dare to dream, but when Julia Gomes opened the scoring from a penalty corner, the result suddenly seemed a forgone conclusion and Argentina prevailed 4-1.
Despite the loss, this was a historic silver medal at a major event. Over the past three years Chile’s rise has been little short of stratospheric and, at times, the hockey team seems to have been travelling a lone path. There is a trace of sadness in Krimerman’s voice as she says: “It has been a long journey and a lot of hard work. We believe that to take our place among the elite of hockey we have to become professional, even if in our country it is not. We dream of this world and we work very hard and pay close attention to every detail”.
“We know that if our efforts bear fruit and we get success, then it is contagious. We feel the joy of our countrymen and women and that is shown by the growing amount of support we now have when we play.”
Chile went to Spooky Nook as the fourth ranked team and defied the odds to bring a silver medal home. Krimerman says that the team never looked at the rankings or paid attention to the newspaper predictions. “We just set out to win every game. It is not enough to say you will give 100 per cent – everyone does that on the international stage – we had to demonstrate our best hockey in every game.”
For now the dream of a World Cup place is over for Chile. They came within touching distance of a fairytale ending only to find Las Leonas standing in their way. Krimerman and her teammates know there is a danger that a lack of international hockey in the near future will put a dent in the momentum and progress they have made.
“It's difficult, we do not have much to compete for now. By not qualifying [for the Women’s Hockey World Cup London 2018] we do not have much on the international front. We put in a lot of training that did not get the outcome we wanted in the HWL and Copa América.
“I think it is a challenge to keep growing and to get more achievements but it essential that we do so we can develop hockey in our country. I think the next few years are key to our continued growth.”
And the Chile players are not the only ones who would like to see Chile continue their march up the rankings and onto the international stage. Winning coach at the Pan Am Cup, Agustin Corradini was fulsome in his praise: “They are a nation that continues to grow. I hope they get a ticket to Tokyo because they deserve it and the Pan Am region needs more teams in the top rankings. I wish Chile all the best.”