England Women’s hopes of reaching the Hockey World League Semi-Final tournament final were ended by the United States, who prevailed 2-1 in a shootout after a 1-1 draw in normal time in Johannesburg on Thursday evening.
England, ranked number 2 in the world, went into the game 4 places higher than their opponents, but after dominating the first quarter, the USA fought back, putting the England defence under plenty of pressure before snatching a late equaliser to force the shootout.
And with both goalkeepers, Jackie Briggs for the USA and Olympic heroine, Maddie Hinch both in fine form, it was no surprise that only three out of the ten attempts were converted, with Surbiton’s Sarah Haycroft scoring for England and USA captain, Melissa Gonzalez scoring twice including the winner in sudden death.
There was plenty of attacking hockey in the first quarter, with defences on top, but the breakthrough came within a minute of the start of the second quarter.
An excellent passing move saw Susannah Townsend pass to former Surbiton player, Sophie Bray, on her 100th international appearance, Bray threading the ball through to Surbiton’s Hannah Martin who made no mistake from close range.
The USA briefly threatened with a penalty corner which was defended, but with England still holding the one goal lead after 45 minutes, the USA really put England under pressure in the final quarter.
The USA forced four penalty corners and it was only wayward shooting from Gonzalez and Kathleen Sharkey, plus some inspired goalkeeping from Hinch which prevented the USA not only levelling but taking the lead.
With four minutes remaining, England were put under more pressure when Lily Owsley, returning to the squad after missing the previous match, was banished to the sin-bin for the rest of the game after receiving a yellow card for a foul in midfield.
Within a minute, with questions being asked whether USA would replace Briggs with a kicking back, the equaliser came when Michelle Vittese sent in an angled pass which was turned in at the right post by Jill Witmer to the delight of the American players.
England held out for the remaining minutes, and with a shootout looming, must have been confident with Hinch in goal.
However Gonzalez proved to be the thorn in England’s side, scoring from the USA’s first attempt as they went first in the shootout. Hinch asked for a video referral, but there was no evidence of the back of the stick being used and the goal stood.
England captain, Alex Danson, then slipped when in front of Briggs, ending her chances of an immediate equaliser. Vittese went second for the USA, Hinch making a stick save whilst falling backwards.
Surbiton’s Olympic heroine, Hollie Webb, who had won an Investec Women’s Hockey League title and Olympic gold by scoring winning shuffles, went second, but could only slip the ball past the right post.
Sharkey’s hopes of extending the USA’s lead were thwarted when she could only shoot past the left post and Bray saw her attempt from the left of the circle saved easily by Briggs as two quality goalkeepers were on top.
Hinch swept the ball away from Alyssa Manley and after Laura Unsworth’s attempt to score from just inside the circle failed, Hinch also swept the ball away from Erin Matson.
Haycroft needed to score to force sudden death and did so, slipping the ball just inside the left post, the ball bobbling over the line.
In sudden death, it was the captains who decided the winner, Danson having her shot saved before Gonzalez sent the ball into the top right corner to give the USA a place in the final against Germany, with England having to settle for the third place match against Argentina.
Surbiton’s Giselle Ansley, Defroand, Haycroft and Webb were all in the England starting line-up with Jo Hunter and Martin both coming on as fifth minute substitutes.
Assistant Coach David Ralph, leading the team in the absence of the unwell Danny Kerry said, “We are obviously disappointed with the result tonight. It was an intense, tight game that unfortunately didn’t go our way. This is a great group of players though and we will regroup and look forward to playing Argentina on Sunday.”
Bray, referring to her milestone appearance said, “It’s an honour to receive my 100th cap for my country. I have a lot of people to thank for helping me on my way. We are gutted with the result but will be back on Sunday ready to go again.”
Germany (WR 7) beat Argentina (WR 3) 2-1 in the other semi-final which ended in controversy, Argentina losing a video referral after they scored what would have been the equaliser from a penalty corner awarded one second from time.
England play Argentina at 10 am BST on Sunday (23 July), with the final between the USA and Germany taking place at 2.30 pm BST.
More information about the tournament can be found at the FIH website here