What a night it was in Bhubaneswar for England – but six long days for Argentina.
Ever since their dispiriting 5-3 defeat to France, Argentina had played golf twice, gone to the coast and returned to set their sights on doing what Olympic champions do and iron out any last-minute deficiencies and plunder on.
But watching how their stilted, rooted to the spot defenders meekly surrendered to France with two of their goals, almost giving up the cause with the Pool won, suggested that this wasn’t a side with world title credentials.
To prepare for the physical contest, England staff sent the players to the gym. Playing two extra games helped no end, too. And so it proved on Wednesday night as England swept aside 20 years without a win over Los Leones – and a bronze medal defeat in 2014 – to march into the semi-finals. Little wonder Argentina didn’t turn up to the after-match press conference.
“We have a never-say-die attitude but we have a long way to go in this World Cup but we can compete with anyone,” said David Ames, an England stand out who has overcome niggling injuries this year to play a crucial role in India.
“It was a nervy game and we’ve taken each game and now we’re building momentum into a massive weekend for us and hopefully the support will be even bigger. Not many teams can get to the semi-final of a World Cup.”
As Barry Middleton alluded to afterwards, England had to put in the type of shift which goes unnoticed by the spectator. The extra stick work, tackle or block.
Middleton was at the heart of it and the hope for England is that his hand is only bruised after receiving a blow from a Gonzalo Peillat PC strike.
England’s game plan looked in good order. They didn’t concede a goal and only one PC until Argentina opened the scoring. In all, the Argentinians began to be continually flustered by England’s stout defence. Like with the Kiwis, they had to thrash the ball in the circle to find a way in on goal, rather than rely on any 3D skills or swift interchanging in the D.
Middleton also had to go off after his hit. And England continued to keep clear heads here too.
“When we had the injury to Barry, it felt like we had to make up for it,” said Adam Dixon. “People were staying out there a little bit longer, maybe doing shorter spells and coming on more frequently. We delivered a team effort.”
For the second game running, we also saw a period which gleaned three goals in four minutes (four goals in four minutes in the Black Sticks game). Again England came out on top here.
Yet, at 3-2, the game was far from certain. Better teams would have killed off the Olympic champions.
And Danny Kerry, the coach, admitted that there were still areas to work on ahead of Saturday’s semi-final.
“We haven’t perfected it, but we will, and that is thinking our way through games better,” he added.
It is a Bisham Abbey mantra which, if they get right for another 60 minutes, can continue to serve them well in Bhubaneswar.