FIH Pro League: Great Britain suffer double disappointment at hands of Argentina
It was a double mauling for Great Britain at the hands of Argentina’s Leonas and Leones as the women went down to a shoot-out loss in a scrappy but competitive match, while the men’s team were beaten in a close 3-2 encounter despite having a greater share of possession in the FIH Pro League.
The opening match between Great Britain (World Ranking:2) women and high flying Argentina (WR:4) was characterised by scrappy play going forward but some uncompromising defensive play by both sides. The two goals were equally scruffy as Argentina scored after Agustino Albertarrio’s wild pass was deflected into the Great Britain goal by captain Hollie Pearne-Webb’s shin pad and Great Britain’s equaliser – scored while the ‘keeper Sabbie Heesh was off the pitch – was the result of a goalmouth scramble, with the ultimate competitor, Lily Owsley, on hand to tip home.
The shoot-out went the way of Argentina as Julieta Jankunas showed incredible agility to tip the ball into the goal from the acutest of angles to score the winner. The result sees Argentina and Great Britain both maintain their positions at third and seventh respectively in the FIH Pro League table.
The men’s game between Great Britain (WR:7) and Argentina (WR:4) was a fast moving and exciting match, which Great Britain will consider they lost through missed opportunities. The score line does not reflect a match that saw Great Britain score from just two of 10 penalty corners, while the reigning Olympic champions showed a poacher’s instinct in taking the few opportunities they were offered.
Argentina’s victory sees the South American team maintain the chase for a Grand Final place (they are currently in fifth place but closing in on fourth-placed Netherlands, while Great Britain will rue their missed opportunity to cement their place in the top three ahead of their important home match against Belgium in 24 hours time.
Great Britain v Argentina (women)
With Argentina women just two wins away from qualifying for the Grand Final, Las Leonas came into the match determined to continue winning ways. However, they were met by a resistant Great Britain team, determined to move up the league table from their current position in seventh place. With the bonus point earned from winning the shoot-out, Argentina continue their quest to be the first name on the schedule for the Grand Final in Amsterdam.
Although Carla Rebecchi and Silvinia D’Elia are two stellar names for the Argentina side, the visitors were missing four players – Delfina Merino, Belen Succi, Maria Granatto and Florencia Habif – whose combined cap count comes to more than 800.
For Great Britain, Isabelle Petter was earning her first cap and Susannah Townsend was returning to the squad for the first time in six months after injury.
“We knew it was not going to be pretty, in fact it was always going to be a grind,” said Great Britain Head Coach Mark Hager as the teams re-entered the pitch after the half-time break. And despite this being a contest between two teams who can play attractive passing hockey, Hager’s words proved prescient.
The first quarter was a relatively quiet affair with neither goalkeeper troubled unduly. Cristina Cosentino was forced to block a Great Britain attempt in the first penalty corner of the game, but her counterpart Sabbie Heesh simply had to watch Argentina’s only meaningful attacking shot fizz past the post from a Silvina D’Elia penalty corner.
Argentina were unlucky not to break the deadlock in the second quarter as a beautifully clean strike from D’Elia was cleared from the line by Laura Unsworth, defending on the Great Britain post.
Through the work of Agustina Albertarrio and Eugenie Trinchinetti, Argentina began to make in-roads into the Great Britain defence. But it was Great Britain who had the next serious attempt on the goal as Giselle Ansley fired in a shot that flew past the Leonas’ goal.
This pressure saw a momentum change with three minutes left before the half-time break as Great Britain began to find their rhythm. Jo Hunter was adding pace down the right-hand side of the pitch and Suzy Petty and captain Hollie Pearne-Webb began to direct the action in the centre of the park.
The second half began brightly with both teams showing more energy. First Erica Sanders had a chance to put the ball in the back of the net but was blocked by Consentino. Just seconds later Albertarrio was unlucky not to lodge the ball in the top of Great Britain’s goal – her innovative shot was inches too high.
The breakthrough goal came in the most unfortunate of circumstances. A wild cross into the Great Britain circle from Albertarrio clipped Pearne-Webb’s shinpad and deflected past Heesh into the Great Britain goal.
Great Britain fought back strongly, with some great incisive runs from Sarah Evans, and Laura Unsworth had a golden opportunity to bring the game back to even terms. Her shot was tantalisingly close but flew wide.
Lily Owsley was on hand to bring the scores back to level after a melee in the Argentina circle. Another run by Player of the Match Evans earned a penalty corner, the ball bobbled around after Unsworth’s initial shot and Owlsey pounced as it ran loose.
In the shoot-out, Silvinia D’Elia made no mistake as she fired into the corner of the goal past Heesh. Both Anna Toman and Hannah Martin shot wide for Great Britain, while Alberatarrio was also guilty of firing wide. Pearne-Webb took her opportunity to bring Great Britain level on terms again.
In the final rounds of the shoot-out, neither Sarah Jones nor Evans were able to score for Great Britain, and surprisingly Carla Rebecchi was unable to give her side the edge.
The winning strike fell to Julieta Jankunas, who took the ball around Heesh and then tipped the ball into the goal just before it rolled over the backline.
Speaking after the game, Carla Rebecchi said: “I think it was a really tough game, it is always like this when you are playing Great Britain at their home. It was important for us to take the bonus in the shoot out.”
“We did very well in defence at all lines of the field,” added Rebechhi. “We know we need to be more effective in the circle, however, because that was a weakness today. Luckily our goalkeeper was outstanding today and we scored when we had to.”
Great Britain v Argentina (men)
In the men’s match, there was a debut for Great Britain’s Tom Sorsby, while Argentina made it a family affair with Thomas Habif, brother of Agustina and Florencia, winning his fifth cap for Los Leones.
In the first quarter, it was Great Britain who dominated the early exchanges and were the first to get a meaningful attack on goal. Sam Ward’s penalty corner flew wide, but the play that led to the set play was Great Britain at their attacking best.
Argentina, for their part, were happy to soak up the pressure as Great Britain enjoyed the greater share of possession in the opening encounters.
Debutant Sorsby made a decisive start to the match. He showed great attacking instinct as his first run with the ball took him deep into the Argentina half and moments later he had tracked back to save his team when he made a last ditch clearance after a ball from Juan Lopez found Agustin Mazzilli who was able to evade George Pinner in the Great Britain goal. Sorsby’s outreached stick guided the ball past the post.
It was Argentina who opened the scoring, with Martin Ferreiro scoring from a penalty corner. Quick interplay between the midfield and forwards led to the penalty corner and Ferreiro was on hand to pick up the rebound from Pinner’s pads and send the ball high into the goal.
Towards the end of the second quarter, Great Britain lost the services of Liam Ansell, as the player suffered an ankle injury and left the pitch in some pain.
“I am pretty happy with our first half performance. Yes, we switched off for one moment and they hit us with a goal but now we have to make the most of our chances,” said Great Britain Head Coach Danny Kerry. And unsurprisingly for a man who is renown as a master tactician, he added: “We have made one or two changes in both the way we will attack and the way we will defend but on the whole I am looking for more of the same.”
Unfortunately Kerry did not get the changes in fortune that he was after. Just seven minutes into the second half, Argentina made the most of their chances after a series of penalty corners had put the Great Britain team under pressure. Ignacio Ortiz was the scorer – his first FIH Pro League goal – as he dribbled past the despairing defenders’ sticks and slotted past Harry Gibson, who had replaced Pinner in the Great Britain goal.
The game was moved even further from the home team’s grasp when Tomas Bettaglio found Player of the Match Maico Casella alone in the circle. The forward made no mistake as he rounded Gibson and scored Aregentina’s third goal.
Gibson showed his class in the fourth quarter when he pulled off a fantastic save from a point blank range shot from Casella. The ‘keeper’s actions kept his team in with a shout of making a miraculous fightback.
James Gall had Great Britain’s best chance to reduce the deficit but an incredible piece of defence by Santiago Tarazona played the ball from the goal-line and up the pitch to safety.
It was Sam Ward who finally answered his coach’s call for a goal. The striker actually mis-hit his strike but it was enough to fool Juan Vivaldi in the Argentina goal.
At this point, Argentina’s Head Coach German Orozco, called for calm among his players, while Kerry removed the ‘keeper and went all out in a last ditch attempt to find more goals.
There was a breathless finish to the game as Great Britain finally found their scoring mojo when Alan Forsyth slotted the ball home following a penalty corner shot. With two minutes on the clock, the crowd at Lee Valley held their breath as the home team sought yet another barnstorming finish.
A final second goal melee saw Vivaldi pull off a magnificent save and Great Britain were forced to swallow the bitter pill of a second loss at home.
“We really needed those points and that was our challenge in this match,” said captain of Argentina Pedro Ibarra. “Now we are re-focusing for our match on Wednesday (against Germany), where we will target another three points.”.
“In the second half we got back into defence quickly when we lost possession,” he added. “We had to work hard towards the end but we are happy with how we played that match. We had to be patient and we got the result.”
Result: Women’s Match 86
Great Britain 1, Argentina 1 (Argentina win shoot-out 2-1)
Player of the Match: Sarah Evans (GBR)
Result: Men’s Match 87
Great Britain 2, Argentina 3
Player of the Match: Maico Casella