Great Britain against Australia in Olympic Hockey at the Riverbank Arena, there are few matches that can match the intensity of this sporting rivalry. Both teams went onto the game in the top two but with Pakistan winning a pulsating and goal-ridden match by the odd goal earlier in the day. There was more at stake that settling some scores, this match could see either the world number one ranked team almost certainly go through to the semi-finals or give the home side more reasons to cheer on a weekend that had delivered gold after gold, medal after medal.
The early play saw the Australian side show they were there to take British hopes down as they fired a couple of early warning salvos across the bow of the G.B. goal. Great Britain didn’t learn from the opening few minutes as Roger Ford saw an opening and with some fortune put the ball into the net to give the Australian team an excellent start.
With Britain down to ten men due to a green card given to Jonty Clarke, Ford was able to put away the second soft goal of the match to give Australia a commanding lead. It doesn’t matter what sport it is, to give away easy chances to the opposition, especially when that team is the southern hemisphere’s maestro, is always going to be an almost impossible ask to rectify. However it is compounded by the almost lack of paying attention given to the danger of the likes of Ford and Turner.
After 18 minutes of play the true dominance of the Australian side was apparent as the facts bore out that Great Britain had only had one shot during all that time. Compare that to the Australians’ seven and it becomes obvious that Great Britain, for all their good work against Pakistan, the British side are not in the same league as the men from down under.
It took for play to reach the final 13 minutes remaining of the first half before Great Britain got a sniff of good possession play which led sadly to a penalty corner being rubbed out by a referral from the Australian side. Within a minute though Great Britain got another chance but it was wasted, broken down and led to a great break away which Britain were fortunate to survive.
The second half couldn’t come quick enough for the British team or the fans that had grown in expectation of a Great Britain making the semi-final. As the game progressed the defence looked increasingly fragile and out of sorts. The team certainly looked as if they were going to try and settle dangerously for second and with Pakistan involved in probably the game of the tournament earlier in the day that may be the worst decision yet at this year’s Olympics.
Whatever was said in the dressing room at half time didn’t have the required effect as early on the Australian team scored a third and perhaps decisive third with Knowles scoring with an impressive hit. As much as Pakistan was taken apart by Great Britain in the previous game, the Australians were now intent on doing to the Brits. Team G.B. was also in danger of losing its shape and it’s stability as both Kieran Glovers and Matt Daly were sent from the field of play for two minutes with a green card against their names.
Then from almost nothing Great Britain got a goal back as Jonty Clarke gave Britain some hope to make the score 3-1. It seemed implausible to believe that this could lead to sustained pressure by the British side. Two penalty corners with Ashley Jackson having a shot by the Australian keeper led the implausible looking suddenly possible. Barry Middleton had looked ineffective in the first half but he went some way to repairing the damage with a goal on 53 minutes to make the score 2-3.
Finally the fight back seemed complete as Britain finally came alive in the game. As Australian goal scorer Knowles was green carded, Britain took full advantage of the extra man with James Tindall scoring Britain’s third. The second half was one of high class, and it’s not being disingenuous to the men in blue should really have been five or six down. Somehow the lacklustre display of the first half and the first ten minutes of the second half had been replaced by renewed optimism and vigour. It was an astonishing fight back by Great Britain, worthy of some of the best hockey imaginable. However it should not hide the fact that Great Britain for the best part of the game looked hopelessly outclassed.
Both sides finished the night on eight points and providing there are no real surprises in the final group game, they should both progress to the semi-finals, whether Great Britain deserve to be on the first-half showing is a matter of debate.
Great Britain: Kirkham, Jackson, Martin, Hawes, Middleton, Tindall, Mackay, Lewers, Fair, Fox, Smith.
Substitutes: Daly, Clarke, Moore, Wilson, Catlin.
Manager: Andy Halliday.
Australia: Dwyer, De Young, Orchard, Turner, Ciriello, Knowles, Ockenden, Carroll, Gohdes, Burgers, Kavanagh.
Substitutes: Butturini, Ford, Deavin, Swann, Govers.
Manager: Graham Reid.
Goal scorers: Clarke, Middleton, Tindall: (Great Britain). Ford 2, Knowles (Australia)
Pakistan 5-4 South Africa
Netherlands 3-1 Germany
India 1-4 South Korea
New Zealand 1-1 Belgium
Ian D. Hall