Argentina's moment of glory


ARGENTINA won their first title in the women's World Cup in Perth in a dramatic manner, beating the Netherlands, five times champions, 4-3 on penalty strokes, after extra-time ended 1-1. China followed up their recent victories in the Champions Trophy and Asian Games, beating Australia, the host nation and defending Olympic Champions, 2-0, to take the bronze medal.

Argentina, dominating the early exchanges in the final, opened the scoring in the fifth minute. Luciana Aymar, afterwards named player of the tournament, wove her way through the Dutch ranks to provide the opening for Ines Arrondo to score. Although the Dutch came back into the game a little more after the interval, creating a number of scoring chances, the Argentineans always looked dangerous on the break and will feel that they might even have been rewarded towards the end of the game with a couple of penalty strokes. With less than two minutes remaining the Dutch, from a somewhat generous penalty stroke award, equalised through Ageeth Boomgaardt off their third penalty corner attempt. There was still time for two more corners before the whistle for the end of normal time.

With no golden goal, the final went into a shoot-out. After a very poor first barrage, which resulted in only two goals, the contest went into sudden death, which ended when Mariela Antoniska saved Fatima Moreira de Melo's effort. There was much dancing and celebration by the delightful Argentinean players after the victory. Argentina's charming coach Sergio Vigil, at an emotional Press Conference, afterwards, praised his players: "I feel fantastic. I feel very happy. I am very tired, fantastically tired." Asked for his reaction on the late equaliser, he said: "A difficult moment but I did not lose my head. I had confidence in my team." It was indeed a wonderful World Cup fortnight for Argentina. Not only did they take the gold medal with Aymar named Player of the Tournament, Cecilla Rognoni was named FIH Player of the Year with Agustina Garcia named Young Player of the Year.

With their first touch missing and turning the ball over too often, Australia drifted out of the medals bracket. Australia squandered eight penalty corners, while China converted two of their four, to win 2-0. Australia's captain Katrina Powell summed up their frustration: "Two games (semi-final and bronze medal match) and no goals is frustrating." China's Korean coach Kim Changback, pleased with the result, said: "I have seen a lot of weakness in the China team and we will work on these to be better in the future."

Both the finalists had moved forward with 1-0 victories in games, which left little impression on the mind except that the right results had been achieved.

Argentina's Luciana Aymar, with the `Best Player of the Tournament' award.

The first week of the tournament saw a few surprises. Just past the half-way stage in the pool games — Australia, Netherlands and Argentina, favourites for the semi-finals — were on maximum points, with either of the Asian rivals Korea and China, who played a tactical goalless draw in their opening game, looking likely to make the fourth place.

The second week began with the defending champions and the Dutch contesting for the top place in their pool in what became something of a grudge match after the Dutch coach Marc Lammers lost his appeal to be able to communicate with his players through earpieces. The use of such devices had been considered by the Tournament Director, Canada's Janet Ellis, to be contrary to the spirit of the game and not in the best interest of hockey. Her decision was also upheld when the Dutch appealed. What will never be known is what advantage the Dutch had gained in earlier games — their winning goal against England had come from a penalty strike. Lammers had secretly used the technology for four months. He had a direct link up to eight of his players when the Dutch beat the Irish 6-0 in an earlier game. The Dutch media made it clear that he had hoped to surprise Australia with his calling instructions at penalty corners.

Without the earpieces the Dutch were more than capable of lowering Australia's colour for the first time in a World Cup game since they were beaten 1-2 by Russia in the opening game of the 1994 Dublin World Cup. The Dutch went on to win comfortably, 3-1, in a game in which their captain Mijntne Donners again stole the limelight and the hosts dropping their first point of the tournament.

The highlights of the first week's play were England's battle with Australia, before a large, noisy crowd, augmented and orchestrated by the "Barmy Army" arriving from a disappointing England performance in the first day's play of the third cricket Test at the WACA.

Australia's Carmel Bakurski and China's Cheng Hui fight for ball possession. China shocked Australia to clinch the bronze medal.

And there was nothing to be disappointed by England's fighting performance although they went down 1-3. Australian captain Katrina Powell scored twice on her 200th international appearance.

Scotland possibly provided the biggest upset when they beat New Zealand 2-1. Goals from Louise Carroll, a controversial penalty strike and Linda Clement winning the day caused Scottish coach Mike Gilbert to confess that he was pleasantly surprised that the squad stepped up to it and persisted for the entire 70 minutes.

In the second week too, the games went much according to expectations with China's 3-1 defeat of Germany raising a few eyebrows.

The form of the U.S., who had claimed the 16th place in the tournament following their narrowest of wins in the three-match play-off against India, nearly sprang a surprise against England only going down 1-0 to a late winner. This after the Americans had beaten South Africa 3-0 in their previous game. The Americans went on to win their last two classification games, beating New Zealand 1-0 and then after a goalless draw with Japan, winning the penalty barrage 4-2 to finish a creditable ninth.

While the disappointment of the first week will be England's lack of consistency and in particular their inability to finish off the weaker teams, the second week will be noted for their victories against Spain, German and Korea, after more than workmanlike performances against the Dutch and Australia, to finish in fifth place.

The organisation, weather and facilities had been good, the umpiring, in my view, above average on this occasion but the 16-team format was not voted a success. While the attendances on some days was poor, nevertheless, more that 60,000 paid to see the tournament.