US stun world number one Argentina to qualify for London 2012

The US women’s hockey side have produced the biggest shock yet on the road to London 2012, defeating top-ranked Argentina to win the Pan American Games title and book a place at the London Games,

The 4-2 final defeat, sends world champions Argentina into an Olympic qualifying tournament early next year.

Interviews and reactions on the Pan Am Hockey Facebook page.

Match details from Ashley Meunier and www.usafieldhockey.com:

With an inspiring performance that will go down in the history books, the USA Women’s National Team upset the tournament favorites and reigning world champions, Argentina, 4-2. With the win, USA claims their first ever Pan American gold medal and earns an automatic Olympic berth.

“This is for all the past players of USA Field Hockey,” said team captain Lauren Crandall. “Every single one of them was with us tonight and we are just glad that we could represent our country well.”

USA took all three of their opportunities in the first half with some clinical finishing and then produced a level of hockey that stunned the world’s top ranked team in a momentous victory. 

Following a cautious start on the 14th minute, the game was broken wide open with a single handed effort from Paige Selenski (Shavertown, Pa) who showed deft stick handling to penetrate the circle and center a dangerous cross past the stranded Argentinian goalkeeper Maria Succi.

If that wasn’t enough to fuel the growing belief in the Americans, two minutes later Team USA had further reward from their confident opening with Shannon Taylor (Midlothian, VA) on hand to beat Succi to the ball. Taylor slide the ball Succi’s attempted clearance and into the goal for an improbably 2-0 lead over the world champions.

The two goal cushion was shortlived as Las Leonas drove forward and earned a penalty corner which was finished by Maria Barrioneuvo with a low flick to Jackie Kintzer’s (Robesonia, Pa) left.

The tournament’s top two teams exchanged end to end attacks with USA showing they were not to be intimidated by the No. 1 world ranked team that has dominated world hockey in recent years.

Michelle Vittese (Woodbury, NJ) was keeping the world’s greatest player Lucian Aymar in check to a degree that she was not her usual threat. Selenski showed her growing international pedigree and was outstanding at the other end relieving pressure and creating scoring opportunities, while the experience and leadership from captain Lauren Crandall (Doylestown, Pa) and Caroline Nichols (Virginia Beach, VA) in defense snuffed out attack after attack.

As half time approached, Argentina won their third penalty corner of the half and had the opportunity to wipe out the unexpected USA lead. But Kintzer, having an incredible game in goal prevented a tie, and with slick controlled movement the ball was moved to the other end of the pitch and the tables had turned with USA winning a short corner as the clock wound down.

The corner practiced with countless reps at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA came together like a dream with Claire Laubach (Centreville, VA) as the decoy, the ball pushed wide right to Rachel Dawson (Berlin, NJ), who took her time, and sliced the defense with a precision pass to unmarked Katie O’Donnell (Blue Bell, Pa) at the post. O’Donnell gleefully swept the ball into the net for an improbably 3-1 half time lead.

As the second half began, USA may have expected the Argentinians to produce some of the blistering hockey they have become renowned for but it was Team USA who played with composure and growing poise forcing the Argentinians into mistakes and limiting their attacking opportunities.

But, the pressure inevitably came and a second goal for Las Leones was scored seven minutes into the half again from a Barrionuevo penalty corner.

With the lead reduced to a single goal, Team USA stepped up another level and put in the performance of their lives. With Head Coach Lee Bodimeade, masterfully controlling from the sidelines, and the minutes ticking by it was the USA was the stronger side.

With Pan Am Gold and London 2012 Olympic qualification on the line, USA was not to be denied. Vittese, who was outstanding throughout, worked her way into the circle and threaded a magical shot inside the right hand post and the USA had a 4-2 lead with 5 minutes left on the clock.

The strong contingent of fans chanted the joyful “USA, USA” as the final whistle blew and the team celebrated a victory that thrusts USA into the top tier of world hockey.

“We have made history today by getting a bid to the Olympics,” said O’Donnell. “I don’t think anyone on this field thought that we would ever lose this match and that was the most important we had going for us. We had so much trust in each other and knew we would come out on top.”