Argentina are back on top of the Pan American Games podium after surrendering the last two titles to the USA. The Leonas beat Canada 5-1 to not only hoist gold but also book their ticket as the continental champion to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Piti d’Elia returned to the Leonas in January of 2019 after what would have seemed a retirement in 2015. Her return to the FIH Pro League and now the Pan American Games was pivotal to Argentina’s success. With over 240 international matches d’Elia saved her best for the last game adding two goals and an assist in the win.
The mighty Leonas opened up their ninth-straight appearance in the gold-medal game with a bang. Julieta Jankunas, as she has all tournament, blasted a back-hand shot to redefine impossible angles and lift Argentina 1-0 in the ninth minute. The goal came after Agustina Alonso’s rip from the top was first denied by Canadian keeper Kaitlyn Williams.
Through midfield Canada certainly kept pace with the world ranked No. 4 Argentina side. Between Rachel Donohoe, Natalie Sourisseau and Amanda Woodcroft Canada was able to move the ball confidently across the pitch but the team certainly struggled to find their targets up front. Veterans Noel Barrionoevo and d’Elia anchored a back line that seemed to neutralize the availability of Canadian sharp shooters Brienne Stairs and Stephanie Norlander.
Canada’s only early chance at goal was in the 15th minute when Kate Wright drove the circle along the right baseline sliding the ball in to Maddie Secco. Secco furthered the ball towards goal and it bounced along a crowded goal mouth and out the other side.
In the second quarter a quick break allowed Agustina Albertarrio to smash a ball in to the Canadian arc. Sara McManus miss trapped the ball and it fell to Maria Granatto but McManus did well to poke the ball away just as Granatto was taking aim. Canada weathered a series of penalty corners that included shots from 200-plus cappers d’Elia, Barrionuevo and Carla Rebecchi.
Natalie Sourisseau ran down most of those penalty corner opportunities until d’Elia made a clever switch up in the 22nd minute. A fake over top of the ball gave d’Elia all kinds of time on her forehand to blast a second goal and erupt a packed crowd nearly two-thirds cheering for Argentina.
Canada started the second half with great attack and were rewarded when Rachel Donohoe drew their first penalty corner. The flick from Karli Johansen was saved by Belen Succi but the rebound fell back to Kate Wright. Succi was stuck getting across her goal mouth and Wright patiently flipped the ball into the Argentina net to get the Wolfpack on the board.
After struggling with penalty corners through the tournament, the Leonas picked the right game to have them fall in to place. Penalty corner goals in the 37th and 45th minute orchestrated by d’Elia lifted Argentina up 4-1. Rebecchi deflected in the first, while d’Elia blasted in a straight shot on the second.
Jankunas continued her scoring tear for the tournament notching her 11th goal of the tournament on a backhand strike that echoed off the back boards to make it 5-1. That would be Jankunas’ second goal of the game and secure her as the top scorer of the tournament.
The victory seals an Olympic berth for Argentina and puts them on top of the podium for the first time since 1997, the last year of the Leona’s six-straight Pan American victory streak. For Canada, the silver medal performance is their best since 1991 and follows their bronze medal performance in 2015.