Rio de Janeiro (15 August, 2016): New Zealand capped a fine performance to end three-time gold medal winners Australia’s reign with a 4-2 victory in the quarterfinals of women’s hockey in the Rio Olympics on Monday at the Olympic Hockey Stadium in Deodoro Park.
The Black Sticks, ranked fourth in the world, took just seven minutes to lead when Anita McLaren struck before Kelsey Smith deflected in from a penalty corner in the 23rd minute to give New Zealand a 2-0 lead at halftime against the World No 3-ranked Australians.
Australia clawed back in the third quarter with a goal from Kathryn Slattery (32nd) which was quickly cancelled out by Gemma Flynn (38th) before Olivia Merry scored New Zealand’s fourth in the final quarter. Though Kathryn scored her second for Australia with two minutes remaining in the game it was too late as New Zealand was well on its way into the semi-finals for the second time in 10 editions of women’s hockey that was introduced for the first time in 1980.
New Zealand’s best finish in the Olympics was a fourth placing in 2012 after going down 1-3 to Great Britain in the playoff for bronze medal. The Australians were a far more illustrious side having won the gold medal in 1988 (Seoul), 1996 (Los Angeles) and back home in Sydney 2000. However, they finished fifth in the last three editions of the Olympics.
The Kiwis go into Wednesday’s semi-finals showdown with Great Britain who dispatched Spain 3-1 in the quarterfinals while the second semi-finals is between reigning Olympic champions Netherlands and Germany.
The Netherlands led 3-0 by the third quarter but saw a rejuvenated Argentina claw back into the game with goals from Florencia Habif (40th) and Delfina Merino (52nd) in a nerve-wrecking finish before the Dutch prevailed. The last time the two nations met in the Olympics was in the final of London 2012 which the Dutch won 2-0 to win the gold medal.
Germany held out a resilient United States to register a 2-1 win on Monday for a showdown with the Netherlands. The Germans won gold in 2004 (Athens) by defeating the Netherlands 2-1 in the final.
“To come out with the win is amazing against a quality side and they put everything out there,” said Anita. “We didn’t get knocked out by any of the physical, or anything, we just played our game. This whole year we’ve been getting the chances, we’ve been creating so many opportunities but it just hasn’t been falling. To start getting these goals in there now, it’s great.”
New Zealand captain, Kayla Whitelock, said: “Things are working well for us. We’re working hard, we’re chasing hard, we’re doing all the things that we talked about and it’s paying off.”
“We know the job’s not done. We can’t just rest on our laurels here and think, just because we had a good one in our quarterfinals it’s going to happen in the semis,” added Kayla.
“If we keep playing the way we’re playing, believing in ourselves and having the confidence, and executing our game plan then that’s going to get us through to that gold medal match.”
For the first time since 1984, neither the Hockeyroos nor the Kookaburras made the Olympic hockey semi-finals, an immense disappointment given their respective world rankings (third and first).
A dejected Hockeyroos captain Madonna Blyth admitted the New Zealanders were too clinical for the Australians.
“They came out and scored their first penalty corner and that’s it, they got on a roll,” Blyth said. “I thought there were patches where we were on top but when you don’t take your chances, it’s very difficult, especially when we started chasing the game.
“It’s very disappointing for our girls considering we played some really good hockey but when it comes down to these games, you’ve got to be at your best or you get punished.
“We chased around and we ran a lot but they were the one getting the reward for their effort, and I think that probably hurts more than anything when you are out there.”
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