Monday, 15 August 2016

Ladies In The Quarters

It was time for the ladies to take to the pitch today as they broke into their quarterfinals matches in Rio de Janiero. Most of the usual crowd was on-hand for these games as the eight teams participating in the quarterfinals shouldn't really surprise anyone. China and South Korea didn't make it from the top-eight FIH-ranked teams, but we knew going in that they were going to have trouble scoring goals and they did. Instead, we have a very European- and Oceania-dominated field in the quarterfinals, and half of those teams will be going home after today's results! Let's find out who will have a shot at a medal in the coming days!

New Zealand vs. Australia

New Zealand finished as the second-place team in Pool A with a 3-1-1 record. They fell to Germany and drew even with the Netherlands, so they certainly regroup after losing to the lower-ranked Germans. They were one of only two teams to post a positive goal differential in Pool A with a +6, so it remained to be seen if the Black Sticks were up to the challenge in the quarterfinals.

Australia had a rather poor showing in the preliminary games by their standards. They posted a 3-2-0 record, but opened the tournament with two straight 2-1 losses to both Great Britain and the USA. While they rallied back in their final three games, the Hockeyroos finished behind both teams in third-place. They only allowed five goals in the tournament which was tied for third-best, but the losses set them back for an uphill battle to get into medal contention.

To say that Rio's field hockey event has been horrendous for the Australians might be an understatement. After watching the top-ranked men fall 4-0 to the Netherlands yesterday, the women needed a major effort after their difficult preliminary round.

New Zealand was on the board early as Anita McLaren found the back of the net off a penalty corner in just the seventh minute of the game. The second quarter would see the Black Sticks double that lead when Kelsey Smith converted a penalty corner at the 24th minute, and the Black Sticks would take the 2-0 lead into half-time.

Whatever was said in the dressing room on the Australian side seemed to light a fire under the Hockeyroos as they came out firing in the second half and were rewarded. Kathryn Slattery recorded a goal off a penalty corner just three minutes in, and the Australians trailed 2-1. However, for all the good the goal did on the yellow-and-green side, the Black Sticks roared right back. Gemma Flynn and Olivia Merry scored at the 39th minute and 43rd minute, respectively, to put the Black Sticks up 4-1.

With the score well within their control, the Black Sticks fell into a defensive shell in the fourth quarter. Kathryn Slattery would find the back of the net for the Hockeyroos in the 59th minute, but it was far too little and far too late as the Black Sticks knocked off their Oceania rivals by the 4-2 score. It will be first time since 1984 that Australia won't play for a field hockey medal!

USA vs. Germany

USA had an outstanding tournament as they finished in second-place Pool B ahead of Australia and Argentina - two of the top-three teams in the FIH rankings. Their only loss in the preliminary round came at the hands of Great Britain as they went 4-1-0. They had the best goal differential in Pool B at +9 and was second-best in the tournament.

Germany finished right where they were expected to finish: third-place in Pool A behind the Netherlands and New Zealand. They went 2-2-1 with losses to Spain and the Netherlands and a draw against China. They seemed to play down to their opponents in some games, so it would be interesting to see how they would fare against better competition in the crossover quarterfinal game.

Marie Mävers put the Germans up just eight minutes into the game with her goal, and the Germans would double their lead before the first quarter ended when Lisa Altenburg hit a backhanded shot up high that netminder Jackie Briggs couldn't corral. Germany was up 2-0 after 15 minutes of play.

For the next 45 minutes, the Germans stifled every attack that the Americans sent their way except for one. Katelyn Falgowski with 3:54 to play was the only blemish on the scoresheet as the Germans continually turned the Americans away in their 2-1 victory. While the Americans may have fallen short in the medal round, they go home with a number of positives on which to build!

Great Britain vs. Spain

Great Britain won Pool B with a perfect 5-0-0 record. They allowed the second-fewest goals-against with four, and were extremely efficient in their own zone. In short, they were the class of their pool heading into the quarterfinals against the fourth-place finisher from Pool A.

That fourth-place finisher from Pool A would be Spain. Spain finished with a 2-3-0 record in Pool A, and were a -6 in the goal-differential department after shutout losses to the Netherlands and China. Spain struggled to score goals just as predicted in the preview, so they were in tough in this quarterfinal match-up.

Great Britain wasted little time in establishing their game over the Spaniards, and it resulted in a Georgie Twigg goal when she deflected a penalty corner shot past Maria Lopez De Eguila at the eight-minute mark. Five minutes after that, Helen Richardson-Walsh chipped home a great setup from Sophie Bray for a 2-0 lead through the first quarter.

With Great Britain going into defensive mode, Lily Owsley converted an Alex Danson pass at the 27-minute mark for another Great Britain goal, and it was 3-0 at half-time. Spain generated little offence in the first half, and the trend continued through the second half as the Britons repeatedly denied scoring opportunities for the Spaniards. Georgina Oliva finally scored inside the circle at the 57-minute mark to get Spain on the board, but they would get no closer in the 3-1 Great Britain victory.

Netherlands vs. Argentina

I'm not anyone expected the top-two teams in the world to meet in the quarterfinals, but the Netherlands earned their spot in the medal round by winning Pool A with a 4-0-1 record. They allowed one goal-against in the preliminary round in their draw with New Zealand, and were +12 in the goal differential category which was best in the tournament. Defensively, they showed why they are the best team in the world as per the FIH.

Argentina had a rather disappointing preliminary round that saw them finish with a 2-3-0 record and in fourth-place in Pool B. The second-ranked team on the planet struggled through the entire round, falling to the United States, Great Britain, and Australia who all finished ahead of them. They did finish a +6 in the goal differential but nine of their goals came against Japan and India. Needless to say, Argentina needed to pick it up if they hoped to compete for a medal.

Lidewij Welten got the Dutch side off on the right foot with her goal just five minutes into the game. Weather became a factor in this game with both wind and rain affecting the pitch and the play, and it was clear that the teams had to make good on their attempts if they were to add to their respective scores.

Laurien Leurink made it 2-0 at the 25-minute mark when she broke into the circle and scored on a wide-open shot that netminder Belen Succi couldn't corral. The two teams would go into half-time with the Netherlands leading.

Seven minutes into the second half, the Netherlands made it a 3-0 game when Kelly Jonker scored on a rebound after a penalty corner was denied. Things picked up for Argentina, though, as Florencia Habif tipped in a goal off a penalty corner at the 41st minute to make it 3-1. Argentina brought everything they had in the fourth quarter as they pressed for goals, and Delfina Merino's deflection off a penalty corner found the net in the 53rd minute to make it a 3-2 game!

Despite pulling the goalie for an extra attacker, Las Leonas couldn't generate another goal against a ravenous defensive effort from the Netherlands, and the 2012 gold medalists would prevail by the 3-2 score!

With our semifinalists set for the next matches, Wednesday will see the Netherlands take on Germany while New Zealand and Great Britain will tangle in the other semifinal game. As we saw in the games today, no team can be taken lightly as lower seeds beat higher seeds and dreams were dashed. It should make for some interesting hockey as the Rio Olympics come to a close!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the field!

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