New Zealand 1 (0)
Michelsen 68 (PC)
Great Britain 3 (1)
Danson 45 (PC)
Cullen 59 (PC)
Thomas 63 (PC)
It turned out to be a glorious afternoon at the Riverbank Arena as the Great Britain women gave an emphatic display against New Zealand to win 3-1 and secure their first Olympic Bronze Medal since 1992.
Watched by the Duchess of Cambridge, Dame Kelly Holmes and Kath Grainger the GB women never looked like going away with anything less than the Bronze Medal as they put on their best performance of the tournament to take the victory.
The first half saw plenty of action with Great Britain winning penalty corners and creating half chances, but the score-line remained goalless as the sides went in for the break. The second half told a different story as Great Britain dominated play with goals from Alex Danson, Crista Cullen and Sarah Thomas. New Zealand did pull a goal back through Stacey Michelsen but it wasn't enough and the celebrations could start for the home-side.
The momentous afternoon had an added bonus for Laura Bartlett as she collected her 50th cap for Great Britain.
After the match, Great Britain Head Coach Danny Kerry reflected the fantastic achievement of his team, "I'm just really content, it was a lot of hard work. I thought the girls were incredibly thorough and professional. We were the deserving winners today. We didn't allow New Zealand to create opportunities, which they have done against every other team. We executed our corners, bar one. It’s been seven-and-a-half years of my life, and I’m just content."
Great Britain created a goal-scoring opportunity as early as the first minute when Reading’s Laura Bartlett threaded a dangerous through-ball into the circle, but her club team-mates Alex Danson and Helen Richardson got in each other’s way and neither could conjure up a shot on goal.
New Zealand produced their first chance on goal in the 11th minute when Krystal Forgesson found Stacey Michelson in free space inside the circle, but the midfielder’s shot on goal failed to trouble Reading’s Beth Storry as the ball fizzed wide of the target.
With Great Britain dominating much of the first half possession, the home nation had two penalty corner opportunities to make their dominance count. A surging run from Leicester’s Hannah Macleod in the 14th minute was illegally halted by the New Zealand defence but the shot on goal from Leicester’s Crista Cullen was easily saved by goalkeeper Bianca Russell. Four minutes later, a shove on Danson was penalised and with Cullen’s goal-bound drag-flick heading for the corner of the net, the ball was brilliantly stopped by Russell and cleared for a long corner.
With nerves perhaps playing a part for both sides, chances were few and far between during the remainder of the first half and the match reached half-time at 0-0 with the deadlock yet to be broken.
New Zealand started the second half brightly and they had a gilt-edged opportunity to open the scoring in the 36th minute. Cathryn Finlayson found herself in free space on the left hand touchline but her cross into the middle of the circle could only be guided onto the post by Kathy Glynn before Storry was able to clear the danger from the resulting re-bound.
Great Britain took heed from the warning shot and began to impose their dominance on the New Zealanders once again. In the 45th minute, their efforts were eventually rewarded when Danson won a penalty corner following a foot infringement by Michelson. Inspirational Great Britain captain Kate Walsh stepped up to take the penalty corner and her strike was brilliantly deflected past Russell by Danson’s outstretched stick to send the Riverbank Arena wild and give Great Britain a 1-0 lead.
The home nation could have extended their lead in the 49th minute when a swift counter-attack led to Sarah Thomas finding space on the right hand touchline with only two New Zealand defenders between her and the goal. Unfortunately, she couldn’t find Slough’s Ashleigh Ball free at the back post and the danger was snuffed out by the New Zealand defence. Moments later Bowdon Hightown’s Sally Walton forced a save at Russell’s near post with a snap-shot from the edge of the circle.
Great Britain’s early second half pressure eventually paid off in the 59th minute when neat interplay from Danson and Ball earned a penalty corner for dangerous play by Russell. Following the injection from Clifton’s Georgie Twigg, Cullen dispatched an unstoppable drive past Russell’s attempted save to double Great Britain’s advantage at 2-0.
The atmosphere inside the Riverbank Arena was at fever-pitch and Great Britain put themselves out of sight when they scored their third goal from another penalty corner in the 63rd minute. A break by Macleod along the baseline led to a foot infringement inside the circle. With Walsh taking over the duties from Cullen this time, the cleverly worked set-play from the 31 year-old found Thomas at the back post and she diverted the ball past Russell to make the score 3-0 to Great Britain.
Two minutes from time, New Zealand managed to pull back a consolation goal when Michelson deflected a penalty corner set-piece past Storry.
As the hooter sounded at full-time, the Riverbank Arena erupted to celebrate Great Britain’s 3-1 victory over New Zealand. As the ecstatic Great Britain players embraced each other in a huddle to celebrate winning the Bronze Medal, the crowd rose to their feet to acclaim a superb achievement for the whole team.
Speaking after the side’s victory, Great Britain Captain Kate Walsh said, "I don't think it's going to hit me for a couple of weeks to be honest. I've been so focused on our job that I don't think I've thought about anything other than the next game, recovery and the next game after that. Once I stand on that podium I think it may hit me and a couple of weeks later it's going to sink in."
"We were heartbroken after our semi-final. The team was devastated. People couldn't talk. They were absolutely gutted. Everything we dreamed of was that gold medal. We knew we couldn't get it, but we vowed that we weren't going to go home empty-handed. We knew that we had the game. We knew that we had the mental capacity. We just had to put it all together."
Sally Munday, Chief Executive of Great Britain Hockey said, "I am relieved. Of course it is phenomenal, but my first reaction is one of relief. Relief for the players, the coaching staff and the families, they have all invested so much into this."
"It is just so important for the whole hockey family. Hockey in this country has been on an incredible journey over the past seven or eight years and we have made some fundamental changes to the way things are done. This is payback, not just for those immediately involved, but for the hockey clubs and everyone involved in the sport. The country has really got behind us and become emotionally involved with us."
photo Getty Images