Great Britain’s Women overcame the disappointment of their semi final defeat on Wednesday to sweep New Zealand aside and snatch the bronze medal at the sweltering Riverbank Arena in Great Britain’s best Olympic hockey finish since 1992.
The game was always going to be dependent on which side was able to react most positively to coming so close to competing for the gold and silver medals, and in the early exchanges it was clear that team was Great Britain.
Playing with a lot more purpose than they showed in their previous two games, and using the full width of the pitch, they immediately assumed control of the game.
Alex Danson threatened early on, latching onto Crista Cullen’s aerial and cutting in dangerously from the wing, only to be crowded out by the Blacksticks’ defence.
Krystal Forgesson wasted a good chance, shooting wide of Beth Storry’s goal, but in truth it was all Great Britain.
Hannah MacLeod, who had an excellent game, won the first penalty corner of the match. The ball was pushed slightly wider than usual, changing the angle of approach for Cullen’s fierce strike but it was well saved by Bianca Russell.
Danson burst down the flank once again and was unlucky not to pick out a team mate with her cross before Cullen’s drag flick was well saved by Russell to keep the scores level.
New Zealand won a penalty corner of their own in the dying embers of the half, but Clarissa Eshuis’ pass was diverted wide by Charlotte Harrison.
After half time, the hosts almost fell behind. Cathryn Finlayson’s pass into Katie Glynn bounced off the latter’s stick, past Beth Storry and hit the post, allowing the Reading goalkeeper to clear. It was a huge left off for the home side, but the first real problem the Blacksticks had caused in open play.
Great Britain hit back, and another Cullen aerial put Danson in behind the defence. She did well, driving along the baseline, before looking to find Helen Richardson, but instead winning a penalty corner. This time, instead of Cullen, the ball was flicked low by Kate Walsh to Danson, who diving full length, expertly deflected the ball into the goal to give her team the lead.
MacLeod was continuing to have an outstanding game. Her hard work and pressure on the defenders winning a number of turnovers in dangerous areas.
New Zealand seemed to have no fight left, but did win a penalty corner. Kate Walsh charged it down and the home side broke forwards, squandering a 4 on 2 break, before Sally Walton went close to her second goal of the tournament, drawing a save out of Russell.
Chloe Rogers and Laura Bartlett linked up well in attack, winning another penalty corner, but GB couldn’t repeat the trick they had performed on Danson’s goal.
Charlotte Harrison wasted a good chance after Forgessen had found her with a cut back from the baseline.
In the 59th minute, the lead was doubled. Sarah Thomas linked up well with Danson, who found Ashleigh Ball in the D. Ball was denied by a fine save from Russell, but the ball hit the defender for another penalty corner. This time, Cullen made no mistake, firing a bullet into the bottom corner giving Russell no chance.
Great Britain were swarming all over the Blacksticks and MacLeod won another penalty corner. Walsh flicked low towards the right post where Welsh star Sarah Thomas made no mistake, guiding the ball home to send the crowd noise through the roof. Danson almost made it 4-0, but her shot whistled past the far post from Nicola White’s pass.
New Zealand notched a consolation goal when Stacey Michelsen got a touch to Eshuis’ penalty corner in the 68th minute but it was too little, too late.
New Zealand’s players slumped to the ground, their despair all too apparent. They have been a revelation in this tournament. Entertaining the crowd with their excellent skills and blistering pace on the break. In the end, they were totally out played by a determined Great Britain side.
There were joyous scenes as the home crowd applauded their heroes and the Great Britain team celebrated wildly on the pitch, embracing each other, Coach Danny Kerry, and anyone else within reach. It was just reward for their hard work, not just in this tournament, but over the last four years. The medal might not be the colour they wanted, but it is still something to be extremely proud of.