The Hockeyroos continued their fairy-tale run in Tokyo winning an historic fifth straight match to seal what is Australia’s best lead into the play-offs at an Olympic Games.
The world number two side surpassed the performance of the gold-medal winning 1988, 1996 and 2000 Olympic women’s hockey teams who were unbeaten, but had at least one draw, in their preliminary round matches.
As a player, Hockeyroos Head Coach Katrina Powell was key to two of those feats (1996, 2000) and is hoping she can repeat the overall success in her new leadership role.
Today’s hard-fought 2-0 win over four-time Olympic medallists Argentina cements the Hockeyroos at the top of Pool B.
They are likely to meet rising stars India or World Cup silver medallist Ireland, who are making their Olympic debut in Tokyo, in the quarter finals with placings in Pool A to be decided tonight.
“It’s not every day you win five out of five at an Olympic Games but unfortunately this is now the business end and that won’t count if we go into a quarter final and aren’t successful,” Jane Claxton, who captained the Hockeyroos against Argentina.
“We are going into the quarter finals with a lot of momentum, we want to win.
“When you are winning you are confident, you are playing with freedom, you are playing with a calm mindset. We have definitely done that and set ourselves up well for a good quarter final.
“The main thing is the next 24 hours recovering well, it’s a long tournament for us…it’s a marathon. We know this quarter final means everything. Past that you can get the energy from where you want, but quarter finals mean everything now.”
Argentina went into the match ranked second in Pool B with three wins and just one defeat against New Zealand (3-0). The South Americans needed to win by five goals to topple the Hockeyroos from top spot.
Late callup Georgia Wilson made her Olympic debut as Powell rested Amy Lawton and striker Grace Stewart.
In a match that was played in extreme midday heat and humidity, Argentina signalled their intentions early in the match, with 22-year-old debutant Julieta Jankunas putting pressure on the Aussie defenders in the opening three minutes of play but was unable to consolidate.
Her side dominated with a fiery passion in the opening quarter but could not convert a penalty corner in the final minutes to keep the score nil-all at the break.
Two failed corner attempts by Valentina Raposo Ruiz de los Llanos in the opening minutes, and an inability to capitalise on a two-player advantage with Brooke Peris and Jane Claxton eliminated with green cards, best illustrates the South Americans’ inability to convert despite owning the ball in the second quarter.
Australia had opportunities through Rosie Malone, Emily Chalker and Savannah Fitzpatrick but fell short despite attacking Argentina’s circle eight times and with two shots on goal in the opening half.
The Hockeyroos offence lifted in the third quarter with relentless dominance of Argentina’s half, but even with Jankunas sidelined for five-minutes with a yellow card they couldn’t get themselves on the scoreboard.
In a controversial move, Argentina challenged the umpire’s call after Australia broke away in attack from their own defensive penalty corner, the referral stopping play and preventing a possible runaway goal.
But justice was served moments later with Savannah Fitzpatrick slamming in a backhander in the 49th minute after an Argentinean defensive howler to give her side a sought-after 1-0 lead.
With quarter final positions already decided, it was pure pride on the line as the two sides battled it out the final quarter, with Steph Kershaw teaming with Fitzpatrick to set Chalker up for a 2-0 lead with just over a minute left in the match.
Coach Katrina Powell saluted the South Americans’ efforts identifying her side’s pace and agility in the second half as critical to the result.
“Argentina are a very good team and they never let you get away with too much,” Powell said.
“The start of the game probably wasn’t as we would have scripted it, or liked, it took a lot of persistence then and perseverance to hold them out.
“I’m really pleased with our second half and we were able to shift the momentum back in our favour.”
Hockeyroos 2 (S.Fitzpatrick 49’, Chalker 59’)
@ Oi Hockey Stadium, Tokyo
Hockeyroos: 2.Rosie Malone, 3.Brooke Peris, 8.Georgia Wilson, 10.Maddy Fitzpatrick, 12.Greta Hayes, 13.Edwina Bone, 14.Steph Kershaw, 15.Kaitlin Nobbs, 18.Jane Claxton (c), 20.Karri Somerville, 21.Renee Taylor, 22.Kate Jenner, 24.Mariah Williams, 26.Emily Chalker, 27.Rachael Lynch (gk), 32.Savannah Fitzpatrick