Terrassa — With 14 seconds remaining, in a frantic denouement to an otherwise stale, cagey knock-out encounter, the ball fell to Sophie Hamilton after a flourishing stick to ball run from the masterful Lily Owsley. The 21-year-old had the goal at her mercy. She even had time to semi-trap and a tap-in seemed at her mercy.
Somehow, Belen Succi, Argentina’s 36-year-old goalkeeper, sprang and thrust her body low down, the ball cannoning off her pads and glove to send Las Leonas into the World Cup semi-finals after a slender 1-0 victory.
As the ball trickled away to safety and the seconds ebbed away, Hamilton sank to her knees. Succi threw off her helmet and was engulfed in seconds by joyous Las Leonas. Few at the Estadio Olimpic could barely believe it, too. A shoot-out was quelled and Argentina had secured a last four match with Germany.
Moments earlier, Succi had denied Giselle Ansley from England’s first penalty corner. This truly was Succi’s night, Eugenia Trinchinetti adamant that she was going to give the player-of-the match award to Argentina’s stalwart No 1. There will surely be more to come from the rising Hamilton’s career, who was consoled by Ansley at the hooter.
A subdued atmosphere had, for three quarters of this World Cup quarter-final, witnessed no short corners and no outright shots on goal. In truth, this wasn’t the best spectacle. It was decided by Vicky Granatto’s deflected goal early in the fourth quarter and scuppered England’s first World Cup win over Argentina since 1990.
That they got so close was down to England’s impregnable defence, Hollie Pearne-Webb having an outstanding game at the back as Las Leonas broke at will from midfield in the opening skirmishes. With every circle penetration, English sticks were coming out on top.
England were gifting too much possession. Breaks were emerging with ease, Julieta Jankunas coming into the game with several mazy, direct runs. But England’s defensive wall was more than holding its ground, keeping Argentina’s PC threat – 11 goals from 33 attempts before push back – from entering the fray.
Shona McCallin was then given a reminder of Agustina Albertarrio’s forehand power when she was hit flush on the ankle from close range. She was helped off but returned after the break.
The running theme of this contest continued apace two minutes into the final quarter, as Argentina finally found a gap. Rocio Sanchez seized the chance on the right before Granatto deflected in. Maddie Hinch, largely a bystander in England’s goal, had to deflect away moments later, before Argentina won their first corner with 11 minutes remaining. Gorzelany’s shot was snaffled.
England still had chances, Izzy Petter getting closer to connecting from crash balls into the D, David Ralph’s side edging on top. Hinch was taken off with over two minutes left and, seconds later, England had their first corner.
It was sent to Ansley and Succi flung to her right, the first of her two late match-winning heroics.
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