New teams are stepping up and the World Cup is proof of it

It’s been just over a month since the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup in London ended but the hype is still out around, people are still talking about it. Many stories have been heard and new history have been made on the hockey books.

Every four years, we put our hearts out there as we cheer for our favourite team. We check on the fixture and calculate the odds of our team getting out of the pool in first or second place. We pray for our team not having to play the favourites until it is necessary. Now, if our team is one of the candidates to win it all we expect a lot from them and get heartbroken if they are eliminated before we expected.

Here is my look back at the Vitality Hockey Womens World Cup and what it held for teams taking part, the ups and downs with expectations lost and raised

 

Las Leonas fell short at the World Cup

As expected Las Leonas went to the Vitality Hockey Womens World Cup as one of the clear favourites of the competition. Many thought they were the only ones that could face the mighty Dutchies and get out of the quest alive.

With the Best Player of the Year, Delfina Merino, and the two times Rising Star, María José “Majo” Granatto, Las Leonas had a squad full of talent. Half of the team were part of the Junior Champions in the last Junior World Cup held in Chile in 2016. They had Florencia Habif (Rising Star player in 2014), as well as experienced players such as Noel Barrionuevo and Belén Succi (both world champions in 2010) in their ranks. When asked, the players explained that the team was a group of friends and that they put the team above themselves. Unity is underrated sometimes in team sports but the truth is you will hardly find a world champion team whose individuals only care for themselves, not matter how talented they are.

Unfortunately Las Leonas fell short at the tournament. After a strong start against Spain which saw them win 6-2. The next team they came up against was Germany, the Die Danas where the team to beat in the pool but Las Leonas couldn’t obtain the three points they were looking for. Charlotte Stapenhorst speed and skill was too much to handle for the Argentine defence they fell short at stopping her when she was on the run. It ended with a 3-2 loss, which being an Argentine really hurt.

The team needed to prove they could be dangerous in attack and so they headed to the next game with their confidence a little dented but also with the optimism that things that didn’t go their way against Germany, would do, against South Africa. This unfortunately for them didn’t go as expected and they tied in their final pool game. It was a big blow for the Las Leonas self esteem, when thing aren’t going as expected, when you can’t put into practice in a match that you have all been training for, for months you start to wonder if you trained hard enough or if you did your best during the preparation for such an important event. You wonder why things aren’t going your way and even if you’re good enough. You start to doubt yourself but ultimately it’s always about how you cope with it all.

The knock out stages

That’s just how cruel sports can be sometimes. Las Leonas showed their class in their next match against New Zealand, but it wasn’t enough and fell short against Australia taking them to a shootout but losing out to them in the quarter finals. Many say the shootouts are a lottery and I guess everybody hates them: players, coaches, fans. Your stomach starts to feel as though its jumping around and even the Legend Luciana Aymar admitted (after she retired) being extremely nervous when she had to walk to take her shootout in throughout her career in various competitions.

Belén Succi was extremely good in the match against Australia but Rachael Lynch was better that afternoon and so it was the Hockeyroos that advanced to the semifinals. Las Leonas were heartbroken and so were their fans. It was a hard blow for everyone that were cheering for them, but no doubt they will come back wiser and possibly stronger in their next competition.

 

The Green Army proved to be a true army

You cannot deny it was a unusual world cup, lots of teams doing better than expected and causing some upsets, it was also where Ireland played their first final ever, in fact they are the only sporting team from Ireland ever to make it into a final of an international sports competition ‘ever’ and with that said they not only made hockey history but also Irish sporting history and firmly put their mark on the country and sports in Ireland.

They upset USA, who got a bronze medal at The Hague, in their first match and that result proved to be key for what was next for Ireland. Starting the world cup with the right foot against a powerful team boosted the Green Army’s moral and finished in the top of their pool.

Many called the Green Army the ‘Cinderella story’ of the world cup and they won the sympathy of almost everyone except for the Dutch (they played them in the final). When things like that happen you can’t help yourself and start to cheer for them and wish them well. Even though the Green Army lost against the Orange Hockey in the big finale. The Netherlands beat them in the final but the feeling around the competition from the supporters and for what they had accomplished was almost as if they had won the world cup, they even got the respect of the Dutch fans at the end of the competition. When they got home after the world cup they received, deservedly, a heroes welcome.

 

 

The revival of the Red Sticks

Spain also made history by finishing third in London. Their first major hit was in the quarter finals when the Red Sticks beat 1-0 Germany. The Die Danas could’t believe it and its big star, Chalotte Stapenhorst, was so heartbroken that she was seen to be sitting in the goal for awhile consoling herself from the loss, disappointed, emotional and in disbelief at the loss. As a player and a supporter of the sport you couldn’t help but feel for her.

We have to remember that the last time Spain won a medal in a competition was in the Olympics at Barcelona 1992 when they obtained the gold medal. After losing to Ireland in the semi finals in the shootouts, they played Australia for the chance to win a medal. Australia was just too demoralized after losing the semi finals against the Netherlands (in another shootout) and they couldn’t bring their A game that day. Spain wanted that bronze medal too much and they showed a strong performance against the Hockeyroos and won 3-1.

 

New blood is always welcomed

In a world cup where the Netherlands trashed every team that stepped in front of them, except for Australia, it was nice to see different teams winning medals for a change and let’s hope we see Ireland and Spain fighting for the first spots from now on in the competitions that will come.

We don’t want to forget to mention how promising Italy looked. They finished second in their pool to everyone’s surprise but the lack of experience showed on the cross-over and their campaign finished against India. Nonetheless, Italy is building and need a little more experience, as its still a young team, to be able to have a shot to qualify for the Olympics and the World Cup served for that purpose.

 

Well then, what’s next?

The Champions Trophy is on the horizon and will take place in China in November and everyone will be watching Ireland and Spain for sure. The Green Army players have been asking for better conditions to train and keep developing their game and their pleas have been heard as they have now had a budget increase so that they can develop their game and the sport in Ireland.

FIH has released the new ranking and the Green Army are now in 8th position and Spain in 7th, while the Netherlands are still in 1st place and England in 2nd, Australia has leapfrogged Argentina and now they occupy 3rd place.

Argentina are now back from vacations and recently Carla Rebecchi announced that she would be coming out of retirement and train again with las Leonas, starting Monday. The former captain decided to retire at the beginning of 2017 to put her family first and she also had a baby girl called Vera. She believes she still has more to give and is ready to come back and coach Agustín Corradini agrees and is willing to give her a chance. Since Las Leonas have a such young squad, Corradini believes she will be a great addition to the team bringing her experience and talent and also be a good role model for the youngsters.

On the other hand, Spain defender Rocío Gutierrez decided to retired after the world cup but will continue to play hockey for her club. Gutierez is not the only one retiring. Many USA players also recently announced they are going to hang up their sticks, among them: captain Melissa Gonzalez, defender Stefanie Fee, goalkeepers Jackie Briggs and Lauren Blazing and from the England team Ellie Wotton announced her retirement to become a sports teacher at Rugby School. I wish them all the best for the future.

Undoubtedly it will be a new era for hockey and many teams out there at the moment. Now that the world cup is over, everyone will start to get ready for the next biggest event out there for our amazing and exciting sport: the Olympics Games in Tokyo 2020.