Great Britain secured Olympic Bronze in the Women’s Hockey tournament in London with a typically mongrel like performance against New Zealand. The Black Sticks refused to lie down though and fought till the end. However, Team GB’s skill and persistence paid off and they took a deserved victory; sending the home fans into raptures.
Throughout their Olympic campaign, Great Britain looked, at times, to be genuine contenders for the Gold Medal. Starting with three strong victories in their opening three matches, they looked the form team. But narrow defeats against the Netherlands and Argentina meant that they were always destined to play for the Bronze.
GB reflected the enthused crowd at the Riverbank Arena by starting with more aggression and intensity than perhaps all their previous matches put together. Within the first two minutes, there were two goal opportunities, both of which were well stopped by the New Zealand defence. Top British goal scorer in the competition, Crista Cullen started a field long scurry into the Kiwi half, brushing off defenders as if they were standing still. Some slick passing between attackers was spoilt by Alex Danson tripping over her own feet. GB constructed another promising attack through Danson once more; a beautifully weighted pass found Chloe Rogers who amid tough New Zealand defence had a pop from far out. Only a deflection off the foot of Samantha Charlton prevented the ball reaching its target.
Underneath the omnipresent brass band blaring its tunes, and the barmy Summer weather, New Zealand finally had some time on the ball and looked to construct their first serious attack, only to carelessly hand possession back to a pumped British side. The Kiwis, for the first ten minutes looked edgy at best and lacked the urgency and precision of GB. Samantha Charlton looked out of sorts at times on the left wing, failing to control balls and losing vital territory.
The score remained nil-nil however and it would be the team who could make the most of their opportunities who would take the lead. New Zealand’s Anita Punt looked very lively in the opening half, showing no signs of nervousness unlike half her team-mates. Punt would cause the GB defence more than their fair share of problems during the match.
As the Blacksticks put some phases together, their confidence grew and they managed to position themselves deep into the GB half. Some neat drawing and passing from Finlayson freed Punt into space down the left hand side. A long corner was taken quickly and Krystal Forgeson fired a shot through a gaping hole in the British defence; the ball however ricocheted off the side board of the goal.
GB then got even closer to scoring five minutes later, as Hannah MacLeod brilliantly battled her way through several Kiwi defenders in the circle and only just failed to get a clean hit on the ball when it mattered. Kiwi goalkeeper Biana Russell managed to get a boot on it but in lifting it, gave away a penalty corner. New Zealand defended the corner well and skilfully played their way up the pitch, Punt being the catalyst, sending an aerial shot deep into GB territory. A serious a long corners did not result in a New Zealand goal, the closest being a stabbing cross field pass from Charlotte Harrison being confidently kicked away by goalkeeper Elizabeth Storey.
There was more optimism from the Blacksticks and Gemma Flynn brilliantly zipped down the touchline, sending in a speedy ball for Katie Glynn. Solid defence from GB prevented a goal attempt. In the final five minutes of the first half, neither side came particularly close to scoring despite a few good runs from Ella Gunson and Cathryn Finlayson. New Zealand looked more relaxed and decisive in attack now; skilful play from Stacey Michelson and increased urgency from Charlton put GB under pressure at times. It was only inaccuracy that let them down. The score remained 0-0 at the brreak.
After several goal opportunities in the first half, it took the first ten minutes of the second for a score to come. And it was Great Britain who struck first. Through a daring and powerful run from Alex Danson, GB won a penalty corner, Danson herself leaping through the middle and knocking the rebound past Russell for a 1-0 lead. The home crowd erupted and British nerves were settled for the mean time and deservedly so.
And with ten minutes to go, Britain found themselves a second penalty corner of the half and with it, a second goal. This time it was more simple, Christa Cullen driving the ball low and hard to the right hand side of the goal to double the GB lead. GB then topped off a dominant display with another goal from their third penalty corner in a row. Cullen the instigator, Sarah Thomas the finisher, poaching at the side of the goal, she easily put away the pass and gave Britain an unassailable lead.
New Zealand did managed to salvage a goal from their own penalty corner, Stacey Michelson starting and finishing a well worked movement to provide the Blacksticks with a least some consolation. But it would not be their day and GB finished off their Olympic campaign with a deserved Bronze medal.
Great Britain 3 (0) – Goals: Danson (45′), Cullen (59′), Thomas (63′)
New Zealand 1 (0) – Goal: Michelson (68′)