A 1-1 draw for Great Britain in their final Pool A match against Spain tonight was enough to secure them a place in the semi-finals of the London 2012 Olympics hockey competition.
Great Britain finished runners-up in Pool A behind world number one Australia and will now play Pool B winners the Netherlands on Thursday for a place in Saturday’s Olympic final.
The home nation took the lead in the 32nd minute through an Ashley Jackson penalty corner before Pua Quemada equalised for Spain in the 54th minute, also from a penalty corner.
A succession of Spanish penalty corners in the last two minutes of the match had the packed Riverbank Arena on tenterhooks but the home nation survived to claim the vital point that sees them qualify for the semi-finals for the first time since Great Britain famously won the gold medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
Commenting on his side’s progress, Great Britain Head Coach Jason Lee said, “It was a little bit nerve wracking but we’ve just held out. I think our quality for 50 minutes was strong and perhaps we’d have liked to have taken the game away from Spain. The expectation of what we might achieve by not losing the game perhaps came into the minds of some players. 1988 is a long time since GB were last in the semi final. Even though we’ve been planning for this, we knew it would be a bit of a fight to get there and we really did have to fight towards the end there. I’m very proud of the players; we’ll just move on to the fun bit now.”
With the two sides sizing each other up in the opening period of the first half, Great Britain claimed their first penalty corner of the game in the fifth minute when East Grinstead’s Glenn Kirkham fired the ball into the danger area at pace and Alexandre Fabregas’ illegal foot infringement was penalised. Surbiton’s James Tindall collected the injection on the top of the circle and his fierce strike forced a strong left-handed save from Spain goalkeeper Francisco Cortes. However, the ball rebounded to East Grinstead’s Ashley Jackson, who expertly controlled it only to put his shot wide of the target.
Jackson was integral to Great Britain’s attacking play once again in the 15th minute. The 24 year-old’s sharp break and cross at the baseline was partially blocked by Cortes, but none of the forward’s team-mates could capitalise on an opportunity to pounce on the loose ball and the danger was cleared by the Spanish defence.
Spain engineered their first penalty corner of the game in the 23rd minute when Beeston’s Ali Wilson couldn’t prevent Roc Oliva’s pass hitting his foot inside the circle. A cleverly worked set piece reached Xavi Lleonart in free space but the 22 year-old forward’s shot on target was confidently saved by Great Britain and Cannock goalkeeper James Fair.
With Great Britain controlling most of the possession and Spain happy to sit back in their own half, they nearly made their dominance count to take the lead in the 28th minute. Old Loughtonians’ Harry Martin dived to meet East Grinstead defender Iain Lewers’ long pass but the midfielder’s outstretched stick couldn’t divert enough power on the ball to trouble Coates.
Spain were determined to get to half-time with the scores level, but Great Britain thwarted their defensive tactics in the 31st minute when they secured the opening goal of the game. Surbiton’s Rob Moore struck Ramon Alegre’s foot inside the circle with a dangerous cross from the left flank and it was left to penalty corner expert Jackson to fire an unstoppable low drive past the flailing left foot of Coates to give Great Britain the lead at 1-0.
Not content to rest on their laurels, Tindall almost doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time when his turn and first-time hit was turned over the bar by Coates for a long corner, leaving Great Britain to settle for a 1-0 advantage at the half-time interval.
Spain opened the second half with more attacking intent and in the 38th minute Eduard Tabau had the opportunity to find a Spanish equaliser but his shot from just inside the circle was easily saved by Fair.
In the 53rd minute, Great Britain almost scored their second goal of the game when excellent work inside the circle from Martin and Tindall led to a third penalty corner. Jackson’s drag-flick deflected off a defender’s stick to Tindall at the back post and his shot was parried into the path of Great Britain Captain Barry Middleton. With confusion rife in front of Coates’ goal, the East Grinstead forward’s first-time shot cannoned off a combination of a Spanish defender and Tindall’s stick onto the bar and away from danger.
Great Britain’s players were to rue their bad luck only a minute later when the Spanish struck an equaliser from a penalty corner. Martin was adjudged to have illegally cleared the ball with his wrist and Pua Quemada stepped up to dispatch a piercing drive just inside Fair’s left hand post to make the score 1-1 in the 54th minute.
As the match entered the last ten minutes, the drama increased in intensity when Spain were awarded a number of penalty corners. In the 60th minute, Kirkham was penalised for playing the ball dangerously high but Oliva’s subsequent shot was struck wide of Fair’s goal. Six minutes later, Lewers was adjudged to have committed a foul in the shooting circle but again Oliva was unable to trouble Fair as the ball squirmed harmlessly wide from the set-piece.
However, yet another penalty corner to Spain in the 68th minute had the vociferous home crowd covering their eyes, but the ever dependable Fair palmed the resulting strike away from goal. The palpable anxiety inside the Riverbank Arena turned to elation when the final hooter sounded with the 1-1 scoreline enough to see Great Britain through.
The reward for Great Britain is a semi-final contest against the Netherlands at the Riverbank Arena on Thursday 9 August.
Looking forward to the game, Great Britain forward Ashley Jackson said, “We will play the same way. We’ll try and score more goals than them and defend a bit better. They’ve got some class players and eventually they’re going to break through a defence so if you’re not set up to score goals you’ll struggle to stay with them.”
“We’ve played them hundreds of times before so they know what they’re up against and we know what we’re up against. We’ve beaten them in big games. It’s going to be exciting.”
Meanwhile, it’s a massive game for Great Britain women tomorrow night when they play their semi-final Argentina at the Riverbank Arena (20.00) for a place in Friday’s Olympic final.
SPAIN 1-1 (HT:0-1) GREAT BRITAIN
Spain Goal Scorer: Pau Quemada 54’ (PC)
Great Britain Goal Scorer: Ashley Jackson 32’ (PC)
Great Britain Hockey Press Release