The Story of the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup

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The Vitality Women’s Hockey World Cup was 2018’s biggest women’s team-sport event – it more than lived up to its billing.

Action played out to capacity crowds in excess of 10,000.  A true global event, its thrills and spills have filled the column inches from Dublin to Delhi, Wellington to Washington DC, and encouraged a next generation to take up our wonderful sport. 

It will be remembered for brilliant goals, hockey masterclasses, moments of controversy and, perhaps more than anything, the overachievement of the lower-ranked teams, a feat epitomised by the Green Army of Ireland.

It was not long into the tournament that we had our first upset, a prevailing theme at this World Cup. In only the third match, the fancied US team had little answer to a spirited Ireland enroute to a 3-1 defeat, with Deidre Duke grabbing a double.

 On Day 2, Argentina and the Netherlands set out to show that not every underdog has its day. The enduring memory of Argentina’s 6-2 rout of Spain was a wonder goal from 21-year-old Maria Ortiz, who struck the ball from the top of the ‘D’ with, it seemed, just the little curl required to nestle it into the top corner.

 The Netherlands later won 7-0 against Korea, with all goals coming in the first half and Kitty van Male helping herself to four of them.

 By Day 4, Argentina were themselves on the wrong end of a mini-shock, the world number threes beaten 3-2 at the hands of number sixes Germany. England made it consecutive 1-1 draws with their stalemate over the US, a landmark game for Alex Danson who earnt her 200th England cap and struck her 115th England and Great Britain goal, drawing her level with record-scorer Marjorie Pollard.

Ireland’s stock continued to rise on Day 5 when a 1-0 win over India made them the first team to qualify for the quarter-finals. Ireland had never before won two games at a World Cup – greater milestones lay ahead.

The next day, the one team ranked lower than Ireland had their moment to savour, when Italy’s Valentina Braconi scored with only ten seconds left to beat Korea and assure her team’s presence in the knockout stage.

On the second Sunday, the Netherlands wrapped up their pool stage in record-breaking mood. Their 12-1 win over Italy was the biggest-ever win in an official FIH Women’s World Cup and also took their tally of group-stage goals to 26, an average of more than eight a game.

England’s first victory of the tournament arrived that same evening, with Giselle Ansley scoring the only goal of the match against Ireland from England’s 14th short corner.

In the first of the crossover games, there was controversy in the shootout between Belgium and Spain. Trailing 3-2 in sudden death, Belgium’s Louise Versavel had to score her penalty, but the umpire judged contentiously that she had backed into the keeper, which voided the penalty and sent Belgium home.

Argentina, India and England, with strikes from Sophie Bray and Lily Owsley in a 2-0 win, followed Spain through in the crossover phase. Commonwealth Games champions New Zealand would exit.

Going into the quarter-finals, Germany, with striker Charlotte Stapenhorst to the fore, had shown form only rivalled by the Netherlands. But on Day 11, Spain sprung another surprise by beating Die Danas 1-0, absorbing all Germany threw at them before scoring a winning goal at the death.

Germany’s exit was followed by that of 2010 world champions Argentina that evening, when Australia beat them in the shootout after a goalless draw.

On Day 12, Ireland were indebted to a shootout winner from Chloe Watkins to progress in their quarter-final after their match against India ended goalless.

World number one then prevailed against world number two as the Netherlands beat England 2-0, with the hockey of the Oranje in the first quarter – from Caia van Maasakker, Kelly Jonker and Lidewij Welten in particular – among the most scintillating in the tournament.

At semi-final stage on Day 13, the Ireland fairy tale continued as the side expected to exit at the pool stage beat Spain to qualify for the World Cup final.  

After a 1-1 draw, they were again reliant on the shootout, in which Ayeisha McFerran continued the excellence that saw her emerge as one of the tournament’s top stoppers.

The Netherlands were made to work hard to join them in the other semi, before prevailing against Australia – and an inspired Rachael Lynch in goal – via a shootout.

And so on to the final day in the bronze-medal match, Spain won 3-1 to take third place and record a best-ever World Cup finish, thanks to goals from Maria Lopez, Berta Bonastre and Alicia Magaz.

The battle for gold was one step too far for Ireland, with the Netherlands dominating from the start in the win that secured back-to-back world championships.

Few can argue that the tournament’s best side won. Stung by losing the 2016 Olympic final to Great Britain, the Netherlands have not lost a match since and have now followed victory at 2017’s EuroHockey Championships by winning the 2018 World Cup.

It has been a thrilling fortnight, full of incident, full of intrigue, with the sizzling heat we have enjoyed providing a fitting metaphor for the action on the pitch.

Germany and South Africa kicked off proceedings on 21 July, and 14 days, 36 games, 126 goals and 120,000 spectators later, it has finally come to an end. 

There’s little doubt it will continue to live on in the hearts of the worldwide audience it attracted.