She cried and cried with the Champions Trophy in her hand and the colleagues surrounding her with their own tears of joy in the moment of triumph for Argentina. It was a touching scene as Argentina’s most famous woman hockey player, Luciana Aymar, bade farewell to international hockey with a courageous victory over Australia in the Champions Trophy final on December 7. Played in the city of Mendoza, the final itself was like a scene drawn from a Hitchcock thriller that kept spectators on the edges of their seats. They were witness to diverse styles of hockey between teams from two faraway continents and the billing of Champions Trophy as a contest of the best of the best was fully justified. The entire 60 minutes of the match were played with unhindered pace, and fittingly, the outcome was decided by shootout in the end.
Australia and Argentina were in the same Pool B in the tournament and they didn’t lose any matches during the league phase. In playing against each other earlier, their match had ended in a 1-1 draw. In the knock-out phase, Argentina beat China 7-2 and Australia defeated japan 4-1 and both teams entered the semifinals to play against more formidable opponents. On December 6, Australia needed a shootout to beat New Zealand after the match ended 1-1 in full time. In the other semifinal, Argentina faced world champions Netherlands, who faced the twin challenge of playing the hosts, who had a vociferous support from 6000 fans and the resurgent Argentinian women, who have had a great tournament until the quarterfinals. Two players stopped Netherlands from taking the match away. They were Belen Succi, arguably the best goalkeeper in the world and Carla Rebecchi, whose electrifying performance pushed the Dutch defenders on the back foot. It was Netherlands, who took the early lead in the 15th minute through Lidewij Welton but Argentina equalized, when Silvinia D’Elia converted a penalty corner. Finally with about 40 seconds left in the match, Rebecchi found the target after Luciana Aymar completed a dribbling run and passed the ball to her.
The final on December 7 was a nail-biting match with no side willing to yield an inch. For Luciana Aymar, known affectionately as Lucha, it was the last match of her long international career. Australians played attacking hockey in early minutes by using the width pretty well and creating rooms for Edwina Bone and Georgia Nanscawen. The attack duly tested the Argentinian defense and their goalkeeping. Argentina was not found wanting as well, as they made dazzling runs in the Australian goal area on several occasions. In one such instance, Lucha reached all the way with her superb run but on her pass, Rebecchi could not beat the Aussie goalkeeper Ashlee Wells. Minutes later, Lucha made another run and this time she found Delfino Merino but Merino’s sizzling hit was well stopped by Ashlee. Until the third quarter, both teams were equally matched in terms of chance creation and ball possession but Australia had a danger player in the new cap Kathryn Slattery. She had several shots at the goal but Belen Succi denied her until the 35th minute, when Slattery finally got one past Succi to give Australia a 1-0 lead. In 39th minute, however, Argentina wiped out the deficit, when Lucha’s Penalty Corner was superbly deflected into the net by Florencia Habif. In 44th minute, Australia had a great chance of going into a 2-1 lead but Succi’s brilliant save denied them the pleasure. Succi was at her best in the fourth quarter, when Australia pelted the Argentinian goal with repeated strikes from Slattery and Emily Smith. In a counter Argentina also missed a chance, when Rochio Sanchez sent a stinging cross but there was no one to touch the ball. In the final two minutes, the ball moved from one end to another and Argentina missed another opportunity, when Martina Cavallero, who was playing her 100th international match, almost got through but again Ashlee made a great save. At the end, since the score remained 1-1, the match went into the shootout. For Argentina, Lucha began by a scorching shot and Ashlee had no answer. Belen Succi brought out two great saves and it was curtains for Australia after Carla Rebecchi and Silvinia scored for Argentina.
Earlier, Netherlands defeated New Zealand 2-1 to take the third place and the bronze medal. Despite losing to the eventual champion Argentina, Dutchwoman played brilliantly. New Zealand too fought hard but in the end, they had to give in to the Dutch superiority in the field. Netherlands scored first in 11th minute, when Xan de Waard slipped one past the New-Zealand Goalkeeper with Welton doubling their lead in 16th minute. New Zealand pulled one back in the 29th minute, when Sophie Cocks deflected a Brooke Neal penalty corner. Despite the hard-fought third and fourth quarters, the match ended in favor of the Dutch at 2-1.
There were emotional scenes, when the Argentinians lifted the Champions Trophy. The supporters rose in unison for the applause with the celebratory sounds refusing to die. The players paraded the ground with the trophy held aloft. Argentina were the deserving champions and Lucha couldn’t have asked for a better finish to her international career.
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