December 12, 2013
20th anniversary of the women’s field hockey junior World Cup titleSaturday, September 14, 2013
And one day, they became Leonas
There were remarkable field hockey teams before 1993, but the 16 under-21 players (see photo) who won the Junior World Cup on September 18 paved the way for the most decorated two decades of the Argentine women’s national team. Four members of that team — Magdalena Aicega, Jorgelina Bertoni, María Paula Castelli and Vanina Oneto — talked to the Herald 20 years after that achievement, knowing that they made history in women’s sport.
“We never imagined what was going to happen. We didn’t even realize that we had won the World Cup. In the last 20 years, we are used to being in the top four positions. Nowadays, if the Leonas don’t reach the semifinals it is a failure. From that moment on, we’ve become more confident,” said former national team defender Aicega.
“Our aim was to improve the sixth place reached by the junior team in 1989. “Chiche” (Coach Rodolfo Mendoza) arrived a few days after the start of the tournament as he had personal problems and, maybe, it affected us because we had a hectic start in the tournament with wins and losses,” said 1993 junior team forward Bertoni, who currently works as sociologist in the Buenos Aires Province government.
“That group made a break. Sometimes it is more important not to be afraid of facing the world’s best teams than how skilful you are. That team took that decision. “Chiche” Mendoza and Guillermo Santini (assistant coach) made it possible. We trained with men’s teams and 11 months a year and it upgraded our level. After the title, we realized that we were not so far from the top level. They inspired us to change the things,” added Oneto. And the change was successful. In the last 20 years, Argentina has won two World Cup titles (Perth 2002 and Rosario 2010), four Olympic medals (silver in Sydney 2000 and London 2012, and bronze in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008) and ended atop in five Champions Trophies (Amstelveen 2001, Mönchengladbach 2008, Sydney 2009, Nottingham 2010 and Rosario 2012). However, the only under-21 title was that one won in 1993.
“I am very proud of having clinched the only under-21 title that Argentina won but especially because it was a group of excellent people. That title marked the start of a streak of remarkable results like the second place in 1994 World Cup in Dublin and the gold medal in the Pan-American Games in Mar del Plata in 1995,” said Barcelona-based sportswear firm owner Castelli.
“I have a lot of memories of that tournament. Seven of us were also in the senior squad and joined the junior after the Intercontinental Cup held in July in Philadelphia. We knew that it would be a tough tournament with Spain, Germany and Australia as the main contenders. South Korea was also a tough rival. The budget for the tournament preparation was minimal. No warm-up tour, just a tournament a year. We didn’t have a parameter of comparison,” related former striker and current journalist in Channel 7 Oneto.
MANY CHANGES IN A SHORT TIME. The field hockey changed its pitch surface in the middle of the 70s but Argentina had its first synthetic pitch in the 80s in Obras Sanitarias, which was not in good conditions in the early 90s. The pitch in the Cenard (High Performance National Centre) was inaugurated in December 1992. Only nine months before the under-21 World Cup.
“Before the tournament, we played a 20-minute-half warm-up match against Australia and we realized that they played in a far better level than ours,” added Oneto.
“I remember that I had to mark Alyson Annan and I was stunned by her speed. We didn’t know what the best level of world hockey was!” agreed graduate nutritionist and journalist with ESPN Aicega.
After a 3-0 loss to Germany and an unexpected 1-0 win over host Spain in the round robin preliminary round, South Korea was the rival in the semifinal.
“Spanish coach Gilberto Gil was quoted in a local newspaper as saying that he was not concerned about Argentina, which bothered us very much. Nobody could believe that we had won!” said Oneto. “The day before the semifinal, we went to the stadium to see the Argentina men’s team and Korea was training in the second pitch and we were astonished at seeing how fast they ran,” added.
“The tactic plan was to play with double centre-half and try to take advantage of Mackenzie’s effective hit in the penalty corners. The scoring was 1-1with one minute and a half remaining. A ball hit in the corner flag, a Korean defender took it and made a wrong pass. I stole that ball, put it on my left side and scored the winner with the edge of the stick. A never-made-before shot! It was a crazy celebration! “Chiche” was my coach in San Fernando and had banned me from making reverse stick shots because I was always practicing them!” exclaimed Oneto.
Apart from creating a hit, the Argentine centre-forward secured a medal for the team and made a lot of reverse-stick-shot goals in her career. The final rival was Australia. Both teams shared the bus to the stadium and, as the Australian got on first, they chose the music. A bad omen for the Argentine girls who are used to listening the same cassette in every transfer.
ORANGES IN A TERRACE. “We were not in the official hotel but a small one with the men. “Chiche” made us practice a penalty corner play in the uneven hotel terrace with the oranges from a tree. He said that the Australians would see it if we trained in the pitch. He told Anabel (Gambero) to stay close to the end-line because the Australian defender always deflected the ball to that place. And the first goal was exactly as we had planned!” said Bertoni.
Australia levelled the scoring but Oneto scored the winner, also from a penalty corner action, with 10 minutes remaining. “It was hard to withstand the Australian pressure in those 10 minutes!” exclaimed Oneto. “If we play that match ten more times, we will lose the ten!” added Aicega.
“It is difficult to choose just one of the memories but I remember running toward my teammates after the ending-horn sounded. It was a mix of happiness, crying and impatience. It meant a great effort from every player to reach that aim but the feeling of wearing the white and light-blue jersey, listening the National Anthem before the match and wearing a medal around the neck is impossible to be expressed in words,” said former left-wing Castelli.
Just with the men’s team and a very small group of Argentines in the stands, Argentina became World Cup winner. “I remember the arrival at Ezeiza with many people from local hockey teams that had no players in the Leonas, waiting for us,” said Oneto. The media also started to pay attention to this sport with many pieces of news about the title. Sixteen courageous players, a visionary coaching staff and a bit of luck made this great feat possible.