Friday, 19 August 2016

Champions Crowned

There were medals handed out today for the final four teams in the women's field hockey competition at the Rio Olympic Games. The final teams in the competition are some of the best in the world as the second-, third-, fourth-, and eighth-ranked teams in the FIH rankings were playing for the three medals. The top-ranked Hockeyroos from Australia suffered an upset loss to New Zealand in the quarterfinals, so grabbing the top ranking in the FIH was wide-open for one of the four remaining teams. Who would prevail? Let's find out!

Netherlands vs. Germany

The Netherlands downed Argentina to advance to the semifinal game while Germany beat the United States to end any chance of the two best teams from the Americas winning a medal in Rio. Netherlands, ranked second by the FIH, finished first in Pool A while Germany, ranked third in the world, finished third. In their meeting in the preliminary round, Netherlands defeated Germany 2-0.

Both teams came out with incredible pace in this game as they looked to strike first. Germany would make that happen when Lisa Schutze's flick off a penalty corner found room past Dutch netminder Joyce Sombroek in the 11th minute.

The Netherlands would respond early in the second quarter when captain Maartje Paumen used a drag flick off a penalty corner to even the score at 1-1 in the 16th minute. These two teams were certainly more cautious in the second quarter than they had been in the opening frame, and the tie would carry into half-time.

In the second half, the Dutch sent wave after wave of attack at the Germans only to be denied each time. For a moment, it appeared the Oranje had broken the deadlock when Ellen Hoog scored high on Kristina Reynolds, but the goal was disallowed due to the height of the strike. The score remained 1-1 through regulation time, so this game would be decided by a penalty shootout.

Germany's Janne Müller-Wieland and Netherlands' Willemijn Bos traded opening goals in the shootout. Marie Mävers gave Germany the lead, and Ellen Hoog would be denied on the second shot. The Germans would denied over the next two shots, and Netherlands' Margot van Geffen would even the shootout at 2-2 on the Dutch's fourth attempt. With both shooters being unsuccessful on the fifth and final shots, the shootout would go to sudden death!

With the pressure high, Netherlands coach Alyson Annan-Thate crouched on the sideline as the Dutch looked to advance to the final to try to defend their two previous gold medals and attempt a rare three-peat in the Olympic world. Once again, Müller-Wieland scored and once again Bos replied. Sombroek, named as the FIH's best goalie in 2015, showed why she earned that distinction with a huge save on Mävers to potentially set up a Dutch celebration if Hoog could convert her chance.

Hoog, having extensive international experience, used the same move she used in London, hammering a reverse stick shot past Reynolds for game-winning goal! With the victory, the Netherlands move to the gold medal game while Germany will play for the bronze medal!

Great Britain vs. New Zealand

There was far less drama in the second semifinal game as Great Britain met New Zealand. Great Britain defeated Spain to advance while New Zealand upset Australia to get into the semifinals. Great Britain, ranked fourth in the world on the strength of England's play, finished first atop Pool B while New Zealand, ranked eighth by the FIH, finished second in Pool A. They did not meet in the preliminary round.

Both teams played somewhat cautiously through the first quarter, and the game would remain scoreless until the 22nd minute in the second quarter. Alex Danson hammered home a rebound off a penalty corner to put the Lionesses up 1-0, and that score would hold true through to half-time.

The third quarter saw the Britons suffer a couple of injuries that set their attack back, and the Black Sticks nearly capitalized. Netminder Maddie Hinch came way out of her goal to challenge the attacking Black Sticks and the ball got past her, but the Lionesses were able to clear the ball from the scoring area before any damage was done as the one-goal difference held up through 45 minutes of play.

Three minutes into the final frame, Helen Richardson-Walsh was sent in on a breakaway during a counter-attack, and New Zealand captain Kayla Whitelock was forced to foul Richardson-Walsh as she tried to prevent the goal, but she conceded a penalty stroke. Richardson-Walsh made no mistake on the free shot, and the Lionesses went up 2-0.

Lily Owsley's work on the pitch earned her a path to the goal, but she was also fouled to set up another penalty stroke. Alex Danson was selected to shoot, and she fired home the third goal for the Britons at the 52nd minute, almost guaranteeing zero chance of a Black Sticks comeback. When the final whistle sounded, Great Britain had the 3-0 victory and a berth in the gold medal game while New Zealand would play in the bronze medal game!

Germany vs. New Zealand

We already know how both of these teams got here, so let's go straight to the action!

Germany and New Zealand played a somewhat cautious first half with New Zealand being more of the aggressor, but both Germany's Kristina Reynolds and New Zealand's Sally Rutherford held clean sheets through the opening 30 minutes of play. Reynolds was clearly the busier of the two, but the German defence held strong as they looked for counter-attack opportunities.

They would get that opportunity four minutes into the second half when Charlotte Stapenhorst finished off the counter-attack after tipping home a shot inside the scoring circle, and the Germans owned a 1-0 lead. Four minutes later, Lisa Schutze found some room and flicked a shot past Rutherford to make it a 2-0 game! New Zealand, sensing that the Germans may shut them down like the Britons had, upped the tempo and were rewarded with a penalty corner at the end of the quarter. Olivia Merry's shot deflected off a German defender's stick and got past Reynolds for the goal to make it 2-1 at the end of the quarter! We would be in for an exciting finish!

New Zealand pressed hard for the equalizer in the fourth quarter. They had chances, but Reynolds and the German defence turned them away. With four minutes remaining - an eternity in field hockey - New Zealand pulled their netminder for an extra attacker to try and find that second goal. Despite the pressure, Germany found ways to clear the ball and keep it away from the attacking New Zealand players. In the end, the 2-1 score would hold as the final score, and Germany are your bronze medal winners at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games!

Netherlands vs. Great Britain

The top teams in both pools met in the gold medal final. Netherlands were looking for their third consecutive Olympic gold medal, and it seems that star player Ellen Hoog has a ritual that she follows that has ensured success of her and her teammates.

Hoog and teammate Naomi van As watch The Notebook before tournaments and before the respective finals of those tournaments as part of their routine. The movie came out in 2004 in the same year that Hoog made the Dutch national squad, so she has made a point of adding The Notebook to their day every time they suit up for tournaments and gold medal games. Would it help today?

The pace to this game was incredible, and it made for an amazing gold medal match. Captain Maartje Paumen was stopped on a penalty stroke minutes into the game as the two teams looked primed for a heavyweight battle! Ten minutes into the game, Sophie Bray made a great play to get into the scoring area, but her shot was stopped by Joyce Sombroek. Lily Owsley was in the right position to flick home the rebound and Great Britain took a 1-0 lead - a lead they would take into the break between quarters.

The Dutch would respond immediately after the break when Kitty van Male chipped the ball past Maddie Hinch into the back of the net, and we were knotted up at 1-1 in the 16th minute. In the 25th minute, Netherlands would be awarded a penalty corner, and Pauman made up for the earlier stop by converting the shot for the 2-1 Dutch lead! That lead would last less than a minute though as the Lionesses roared back and Crista Cullen would find the back of the net in the 26th minute! Through 30 minutes of the gold medal match, we had the two teams deadlocked at 2-2!

The two teams continued to attack in trying to break the tie, and the Netherlands would find the cage first. Off a penalty corner in the 37th minute, Kitty van Male wired a shot into the net unobstructed, and the Dutch would regain the lead! The Britons would apply more pressure after the goal, but the whistle would end the quarter after 45 minutes with the Dutch leading 3-2.

The offensive pressure applied by the Britons paid off in the fourth frame. At the 52nd minute, Great Britain was awarded a penalty corner. The initial shot was blocked by a Dutch defender, but Nicola White corralled the rebound and swept it into the cage for the 3-3 tie! The Dutch were looked anything but downtrodden after the goal as they attacked the Britons once more, but they would be turned away. The counter-attack by the Lionesses resulted in chances as well, but the final whistle would sound after 60 minutes with the score still at 3-3. The gold medal would be determined by a penalty shootout!

I'll be honest: I'm not a fan of shootouts deciding medals. However, this is the rule of the land in field hockey, so let's get to it.

Both teams were denied goals through the first two shooters, but Joyce Sombroek committed a penalty on the third British shot, resulting in a second attempt on the third shot for Helen Richardson-Walsh. Richardson-Walsh made no mistake on the do-over as she put Great Britain up 1-0 in the shootout. Laurien Leurink was denied by Maddie Hinch, and the Lionesses held the lead moving into Round Four. Both shooters would be denied again by the world-class netminders, so it was off to the fifth and, potentially, final round for the two teams depending on the results of the final shooters.

With Great Britain shooting first, they had an opportunity to end the shootout on their fifth shot. Hollie Webb would step to the penalty spot for Great Britain, and her flick found its way past Sombroek and into the back of the net for the deciding goal! Great Britain wins the game 2-0 in the penalty shootout, and dethrones the defending two-time Olympic champions!

As a note, there were a couple of stories about Helen and Kate Richardson-Walsh becoming the first openly gay couple to win gold medals at the Olympics. Let me just say this: their sexuality means nothing to fans of the game, and those that reported this "historic" moment should be ashamed. These two women are amazing athletes and stars in the sport of field hockey which is what the Olympics are about. I, for one, commend them on their abilities and the fact that they are Olympic gold medalists today and forever. They are model athletes for this sport, and their gold medals reflect that dedication and ability. There is absolutely no reason to reflect on their marriage, their personal lives, or their sexuality when they are champions of their sport. Shame on those that made their story personal as opposed to celebrating what their team accomplished.

The Lionesses went undefeated in the tournament in winning the gold medal, and they certainly deserved the gold medal after showing the world how good they are. As a guy who has come to appreciate the finer points of the game of field hockey, this team showed class and respect throughout the tournament, and are fine examples of the Olympic spirit! Congratulations to Team Great Britain, your 2016 Rio Olympic Games champions!

The following table shows how the remainder of the field finished.

Rank Country Record Differential Points
Great Britain
7-0-1 +13 22
5-0-3 +13 18
4-2-2 +2 14
New Zealand
4-3-1 +4 13
4-2-0 +8 12
3-3-0 +4 9
2-0-4 +5 6
2-0-4 -8 6
1-2-2 -2 5
0-4-1 -13 1
South Korea
0-4-1 -10 1
0-4-1 -16 1

Congratulations go out to all the teams, but especially to gold medalist Great Britain, silver medalist Netherlands, and bronze medalist Germany! An excellent tournament by all standards!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the field!

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