Olympics: Being There – Hockey

Women’s Hockey Semi-final, GB v Argentina, Riverbank Arena, Olympic Park

The line-up and order of play for the two women’s semi-finals were announced less than 48 hours before they were due to be played, resulting in more than a day’s worth of trying to swap tickets for a number of ticket holders. Eventually, on the day of the matches, tickets for the Netherlands semi-final with New Zealand were exchanged for seats at the Riverbank to see Team GB play Argentina in an evening match for a guaranteed medal and place in the final.

Plenty of anecdotal evidence, a rousing National Anthem in the packed stands and a vibrant display of colours showed more than a few people had successfully swapped tickets for the 8pm match on the blue pitch, played against a backdrop of the sun going down around the open temporary venue in the Olympic Park.

But though the stage was set for a great night Team GB didn’t seem to be at the races to start with. A young looking Argentinean side played the ball out comfortably from the back with little pressure, easily getting down both flanks, where they cut the ball back with short passes whenever possible.

An early penalty-corner resulted in the opening goal after just five-minutes and for the rest of the first-half they were technically and tactically superior bringing back memories of watching the England football team outwitted for the best past of thirty years with exclusion of the Venables and Hoddle managerial eras.

GB, in red, were panicking as Argentina, in their traditional light-blue and white stripes, dominated; clearances from Great Britain went straight to their opponents, and some of their play resembled hit-and-hope. Just minutes before the break Argentina went down their left-wing, where they had looked particularly skilful, and cut into the area; the British goalkeeper was beaten and appeared to clatter her opponent but regardless the small hard ball was deftly put into the net.

Team GB were out early for the start of the second-half and within the first minute they showed a purpose that matched the occasion and went onto to dominate the second-half with a high tempo approach. They missed two one-on-ones though and they didn’t pull a goal back until just over five minutes were left to play – one of the many fast crosses that came in from wide areas (a contrast to Argentinean cut-backs from the by-line) being smartly diverted in at close-range.

There wasn’t enough time to create another chance though and Argentina made the most of the ball and space in front of them at the death as GB searched desperately for an equalizer. The picture at the top of this piece, taken at the final whistle, accurately reflects the moods of each side at the end as Argentina hung onto a 2-1 win in a game of two-halves.

On leaving the Riverbank Dutch fans were already outside with hand written requests on bits of cardboard looking for tickets for the Final, having defeated New Zealand on penalties earlier in the afternoon. Despite the defeat the Olympic Park looked no less stunning on the first day, Day 12, where GB failed to get a medal since Day 1. And a further 48 hours later the British women’s hockey team celebrated even more wildly than their opponents had in the semi-final, eventually securing a medal of their own with a bronze against New Zealand, a reminder that the success of home athletes across all sports has been the magical extra ingredient in an already wonderful Olympic Games.

MG

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