What a fantastic night for Team GB at Rio! Olympic golds in kayaking and diving, bronze medals in cycling, shooting, judo and gymnastics, a dramatic golden point victory in the rugby sevens against Argentina… and all kicked off by a thrilling win over the same country by the ladies’ hockey squad.
That victory made it three wins out of three for Kate Richardson-Walsh’s side in what was a pulsating encounter played against the backdrop of great vocal support from the large Argentinian contingent in the crowd and worsening weather conditions that resulted in a good old British downpour in the latter stages of the game.
Argentina, known as “Las Leonas” (I’m no expert, but I reckon it translates as “the Lionesses”) came closest to opening the scoring in the opening quarter when a shot rebounded of the left-hand post, before a sudden descent from the sublime to the ridiculous….
The sublime came from Gabriela Aguirre, who showed some absolutely incredible skill to dribble out of defence, leaving three GB players in her wake, before releasing a pass that sparked a lightning fast counter-attack. The ridiculous was the sin-binning of Hannah Macleod who was unceremoniously pushed to the ground while turning to run back and face a free hit, only to be dismissed for two minutes for what I can only assume the umpire saw as not retreating.
It wasn’t to be the last bizarre card brandished in a general British direction.
By half-time, Team GB found themselves two goals to the good, with Helen Richardson-Walsh netting twice; the first courtesy of a superb deflection from a penalty corner, followed soon after by a neat close-range far-post finish after brilliant approach play from the excellent Susannah Townsend (pictured at the foot of the page). I’m not sure if Alex Danson deserved some sort of credit for the way she leapt to avoid the goal-bound shot, but if she hadn’t been a hockey player, she may well have been a pretty successful high jumper….
Sophie Bray made it 3-0, somehow managing to find the ball under the Argentinian goal keeper’s body and firing home—Sophie had scored a similar goal in last year’s EuroHockey final—and at that point, we were in complete command.
To me it seemed the South Americans play a lot on emotion. They’d been well contained for forty minutes, but one defensive error offered a chance that was expertly taken and suddenly the mood on and off the pitch changed. A minute later, Argentina won a penalty corner, and despite one superb save from Maddie Hinch the rebound was lifted into the roof of the net. All the momentum was with Argentina and, roared on by their fans, an equaliser looked almost inevitable.
The three-quarter break came at just the right time and allowed the British girls to regroup. Indeed they had a golden opportunity to close out the game when Alex Danson was “fouled” (and I use the term advisedly… it was almost an assault) and a penalty stroke awarded. Unfortunately the keeper guessed correctly and comfortably denied Helen Richardson-Walsh her hat-trick, and the single goal lead made for a really tense final ten minutes.
The British cause wasn’t helped by two more players being sent to the sidelines—Sophie Bray’s yellow card was a joke. I’m not sure there was even an infringement in the first place, but Sophie clearly didn’t hear the whistle over the din coming from the stands and took one more touch of the ball… and that was enough for Britain’s no.19 to be invited to sit out the next five minutes.
This was a stern test for the nine/ten/eleven players on the pitch and they passed with flying colours. Wonderfully marshalled by Kate Richardson-Walsh, the British girls repelled everything Argentina threw at them. It was only a pool game, but it had the feel of a medal match. There are plenty of very strong squads in the tournament and medals may well be decided by very small margins... that being the case, the British squad showed last night they can make good decisions and play really good hockey under intense pressure—maybe, just maybe those could be the “small margins”…?
Player of the match – a tough choice, but I’ve gone for Maddie Hinch