The World League semi-finals were one the most important tournaments for women’s hockey this year because it meant there were places for the World Cup next year in London and for the World League finals in New Zealand at the end of this year up for grabs. In Johannesburg, although all the teams wanted to win the tournament, everybody knew the priority was qualification for the World Cup and World League Final.
That was certainly the priority for Las Leonas, too, but they also wanted to perform better, better than they played at Rio, and give them the confidence boost they needed.
The challenge was a big one: With a new head coach and a very young team, they travelled to South Africa with the desire to prove the team could compete with the best.
Their first game was a 2-0 win against Chile and they showed both a solid defence and offence, retreating quickly when Chile attacked. Their new coach, Agustín Corradini, wanted Las Leonas to attack through the middle of the field but after two quarters they saw that plan wasn’t working, at least with Chile, so they were forced to change and attack, creating a lot more chances.
Against South Africa the match was different. Encouraged by their fans, the South Africans played very good 1st and 2nd quarters and took the lead 1-0. But Las Leonas were patient and found the back of the net thanks to the experienced Noel Barrionuevo. Then, Delfina Merino and Florencia Habif scored and the game ended 3-1 against a valiant South Africa.
The game against United States was the best game for Las Leonas in the entire tournament, not just for the result (4-0), but because they beat their Pan-American rivals with authority. They showed a great skill in their game, the passes were precise and they were effective in the area. It was a lesson in hockey, not just for the abilities each player displayed but because they played and attacked as a team and they scored good goals.
After that, Las Leonas played against India winning comfortably, 3-0 to top their pool, followed by a quarter-final with Ireland, winning 2-1, in a match where Ireland showed a lot of heart and proved they can be a tough team to beat.
With those results, Las Leonas bought their ticket to the semi finals of the tournament, but more importantly qualified for the World League Final and for the World Cup next year.
Next up was the semi-finals and Germany, 7th in the FIH ranking, were waiting for them. Despite not being favourites, they matched Argentina and pressured them almost the entire match. Germany defended well and Las Leonas found it difficult to break them down. Argentina weren’t playing their normal game, their passes lacked their usual quality and nobody in the team was able to take the game by the scruff of the neck and inspire the team.
There were also two important plays at the end of the match. In one of them, Delfina Merino sped up to the area along with her comrade in arms Martina Cavallero, but the referee blew for a foot against Delfina. Sadly, they couldn’t ask for a video referral because the play was outside of the 23. The other one came 10 seconds before the final whistle when Argentina were awarded a short corner. The ball went in the net but the umpire adjudged the ball had hit Merino’s leg on the way in and with no referral left, Las Leonas lost the match.
That defeat meant they faced England in the 3rd/4th playoff and a fantastic game saw Argentina draw level twice in a thrilling 2-2 first half. England were too strong in the 2nd half though, and finished the game 5-2 winners.
During the tournament we could see a team that always wanted to attack, that never gave up even in adverse situations, a team that retreated quickly when needed. We saw young players that proved they are ready to play with the senior team, although they do need to gain more international experience to handle certain situations, such as slowing the game when needed, not being rushed into playing desperate balls and making that all-important final pass.
All that said, Las Leonas only had two months to prepare for the World League semi-finals under the direction of the new coach and Corradini himself made it clear that the team played according to the preparation they had in that short amount of time; but also remarked how the preparation from now on would be more intense in order to prepare for the World League Final.
Before that, the team has to travel to Lancaster to play the Pan-American games in the United States this August. The list of players includes: Agustina Habif, Florencia Habif, Belén Succi, Florencia Mutio, Pilar Campoy, Paula Ortiz, María José Granatto, Agostina Alonso, Julia Gomes Fantasia, Julieta Jankunas, Delfina Merino, Martina Cavallero, Rocío Sánchez Moccia, Eugenia Trinchinetti, Lucina Von Der Heyde, Magadalena Fernández Ladra, Noel Barrionuevo and Agustina Gorzelany. Las Leonas first match will once again be against Chile on August 5th and they’ll play against Uruguay on August 7th. World League Semi-final winners, United States, 4th now on the FIH ranking, will also play the Pan-American tournament, with their first game coming against Mexico on August 5th.
The tournament will give international experience to the younger players, will help them to be more confident in their game and improve as a team. And it is good that Las Leonas don’t have to wait until November to play another tournament. So, welcome Pan-American games!