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GB women qualify for Olympic semi-final showdown with Argentina

Great Britain women qualified for their first Olympic semi-final since Atlanta in 1996 despite going down to a 2-1 defeat against the Netherlands at a packed Riverbank Arena this evening.

Second half goals from Kitty van Male and the impressive Naomi van As gave the Dutch a fifth straight win in Pool A, but with China losing 1-0 to Japan earlier in the day, the home nation were already guaranteed a place in the last four of the hockey competition before the game got underway. Crista Cullen scored Great Britain’s only goal from a first half penalty corner.

As runners-up behind the Netherlands, Great Britain will now play the winners of Pool B, Argentina, at 8pm on Wednesday for a place in the final. Meanwhile, the reward for the Dutch is a last four clash against New Zealand at 3:30pm on Wednesday.

Kate Walsh, Great Britain Captain, reflected on tonight’s performance by saying, “I thought we started quite brightly. You know you’re not going to have a lot of the ball against the Dutch so you need to cherish it when you get it. As the game continued we turned over possession too easily but I think we looked reasonably strong on the whole.”   She continued, “We did limit their chances. They’re the reigning Olympic champions, and they’re a good side. At times we’ve shown what we can do, we’ve just got to have a lot more belief in our abilities and what we can do going forward and back ourselves.”   With the Netherlands’ captain Maartje Paumen and Naomi van As looking in menacing mood, the Dutch set the pace in the opening period of the first half. In the ninth minute, they had two opportunities to score following dangerous crosses from the left hand flank, but neither tournament top scorer Kim Lammers or Kelly Jonker could make a connection in the scoring circle.

In the 17th minute, Great Britain and Reading goalkeeper Beth Storry was called into action for the first time when she made a clever stop to deny Maartje Goderie, but a previous foot infringement from Leicester’s Anne Panter in the build-up gave the Netherlands their first penalty corner. The Dutch had failed to score from a penalty corner in over twenty attempts and their wretched record was to continue when a strong challenge from Leicester’s Hannah Macleod on Paumen cleared the danger from the set-play.

With the Netherlands looking the most likely to open the scoring, Reading’s Alex Danson forced a penalty corner for Great Britain in the 29th minute after her shot cannoned off Sophie Polkamp’s foot. Against the run of play, Great Britain notched the first goal of the game when Leicester’s Crista Cullen stepped up to unleash an unstoppable low drive past helpless Netherlands’ goalkeeper Joyce Sombroek to give Great Britain a 1-0 lead.

Two minutes later, Macleod was penalised by the Japanese umpire Chieko Soma for a foul on Carlien ven den Heuvel in the circle. However, Storry was once again the heroine in goal when she produced a fantastic one handed save to deny Paumen’s penalty corner strike and enable  Great Britain to retain their 1-0 lead at half-time.

The commanding Storry was called upon once again three minutes into the second half when van Male broke forward from midfield to send an enticing pass into space for Lammers to run in on goal. However, the 34 year-old veteran was quick off her line to beat the Dutch striker in the chase for the ball and cleared the danger.

However, there was nothing Storry could do about the Netherlands’ equaliser in the 43rd minute. Van Male dummied van As’ cross in the circle and Clifton’s Georgie Twigg was helpless to prevent the ball hitting her foot and conceding a penalty corner. A cleverly worked set-piece saw van As inject the ball to Paumen, who returned the ball to the former FIH World Player of the Year at the near post and van As’ first time shot was guided into the far corner of the goal to make the scoreline 1-1.

With van As running the show, the Netherlands were always dangerous and they took the lead in the 52nd minute when Ellen Hoog’s reverse stick shot evaded the outstretched Storry and van Male had the easiest of tasks to turn the ball home to make the score 2-1.

There was still time for another Storry save in the 68th minute when she denied Hoog a second goal and the score remained 2-1 to the Netherlands at the full-time hooter.

Following her excellent performance, Great Britain goalkeeper Beth Storry said, “[I have] mixed emotions really. You’ve got the high that we’re in the semis, which is absolutely fantastic, but also slightly disappointed after the result. I don’t think we played our best hockey but you’ve got to look forward to the next match. We’ve trained so hard over the past three years and being able to train full time has made such a difference.”   With Great Britain women qualifying for the semi-final on Wednesday 8 August at the Riverbank Arena, they will also be guaranteed a medal match on the final day of the women’s competition on Friday 10 August.

Meanwhile, Great Britain men will also be aiming to reach the semi-finals of the hockey competition when they entertain Spain tomorrow night at the Riverbank Arena (19.00). Victory for the home side will guarantee them a last four place.

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