Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Argentina vs Great Britain, Olympics 2012 Hockey Semi-final

Argentina and Great Britain come into this match, both on good form. Argentina has come through a very tough group in first place but isn't really firing on all cylinders yet. The best ladies hockey player in the world, Luciana Aymer has yet to really play her best in this tournament but even when not at her best, she is still very dangerous.

For Great Britain, the talismanic Kate Walsh will definitely start despite her surgery a week ago. Crista Cullen, the outstanding penalty corner specialist at this tournament will need to be on her very best if she is to beat Laura del Colle in the Argentine goal.

The last time the majority of these players met, was the Champions Trophy 2011 in Argentina. On that day, Argentina beat England and the English players in this team will be looking to avenge that defeat, especially as they now have home advantage

If the first semi-final was tight and end-to-end stuff, this one will be even more so. Both sides will want to win this in normal time and avoid the lottery of golden goal extra time and the new format shoot out. The winners will be the team that can run for the whole 70 minutes and keep their composure under pressure. The two goalkeepers, Laura del Colle and Beth Storry will have a long hard night and neither of them will be looking forward to the thought of the shoot out at the end of a long evening.

First Half
Great Britain got the first attack in, driving the ball down the right hand side and deep into the Argentine 23m. After a few attempts to get the ball in to the D it finally went off the back line, allowing Argentina to relieve the pressure. Great Britain quickly win the ball back and put in another attack but once again it comes to nothing.

After being muscled off the  ball by the USA a few days ago, Argentina started the game with some very physical challenges and were warned by the umpire to calm down. All this with just two minutes of the match gone.

It didn't take long for Argentina to get their first chance at the Great Britain goal. A long ball, fired in that was easily swept away to the sideline. Argentina quickly took the sideline hit, drove into the D and picked up the first penalty corner. on replay, the ball seemed to be lifted but it would have been a hard call to disallow that and it was too early in the game for Great Britain to risk losing its referral to the video umpire

The ball was injected quickly, and Rodriguez Perez had just enough time to get the shot off, just evading the charging Cullen. The ball was low and to the left of Storry in the Great Britain goal and it's  1-0 to Argentina. This was just the start Argentina were looking for. From the restart, Great Britain looked to hit back and although they got the ball down to the Argentine D, they still couldn't do anything with it.

The sticks were beginning to really fly in now and Argentina picked up another warning from the umpires for loose stick play. The ball is back at the Argentine end of the pitch but Great Britain are still unable to get the shot away. Argentina bring the ball away and seem to have plenty of time to play it around the back.  Some really loose passes here from both sides and the game goes a little quiet.

A Rebecchi drive into the Great Britain D almost led to a shot on goal but she was dispossessed just before she could get the shot off. Great Britain come away with the ball and Danson looked for room to run but she is being closely marked by as many as three players at times. Great Britain drove into the 23m area and a push in the back on Danson should have brought a penalty corner.

After all that sustained pressure from Great Britain, Argentina finally got a free hit and a chance to bring the ball away. The ball is moved quickly down the Argentine left to a player who is completely unmarked but Walsh got across quickly to make the tackle but instead gives away a free hit just outside the D. Argentina quickly take the hit but Walsh, looking a little intimidating in her face protection, wins the ball back, fairly this time.

Great Britain move the ball from side to side around the back and then go for the long arial down the right side but the whole move goes nowhere. Argentina took the sideline hit quickly but it runs off the far end of the pitch. Danson gets another chance to drive the ball into the Argentine D and wins a sideline hit. Great Britain move the ball around the back until Walsh tried the long forward pass which goes harmlessly off the end of the pitch.

Cullen went up in support of the attack as Great Britain tried to pin Argentina into their own D. The heavy marking on Danson should be creating much more room for other players. Unfortunately, Great Britain aren't taking advantage of this. A mistake by Great Britain allowed Argentina to launch forward into the Great Britain 23m area. Good defending from Great Britain but the clearance went back to Argentina who win a free hit.

Composure will be the key to this game and at the moment, Argentina look the more composed when on the ball, both in attack and defence.

A spate of missed tackles by Great Britain left them perilously close to the umpires reaching for their green cards. Too many of the Great Britain clearances are now going straight to Argentine sticks. As a result, the ball keeps coming back and back. Great Britain are also slow on the ball, which has allowed Argentina to win the ball in key areas of the pitch.

Not only are Great Britain having a problem clearing the ball from their 23m but Richardson is getting very animated out there, shouting at her own team mates and needs to calm down and keep her head. Thomas came back to collect the ball, drove it forward to the Argentine 23m and then shot it into the D where it was deflected off the back line. Argentina are constantly getting everyone behind the ball to prevent any Great Britain shot and eventually they get a free hit and clear the ball.

Great Britain intercept and drive the ball back in again but they just cannot find a telling ball into the D and get anyone on it. Attack after attack from Great Britain ends in a free hit to Argentina. Great Britain are lucky not to have lost a player to a yellow card when a stick is lifted into the face of Habif. Argentina are quickly back on the attack first down the left, then the right and then back down the left. Finally they get some room on the Great Britain right but Walsh comes away with the ball.

With just over 6 minutes to go, Argentina came forward looking for a second goal but Aymar is denied by some great work from Storry. Although she is able to get the rebound, it goes harmlessly over the bar. Great Britain quickly get the ball to the Argentine end of the pitch and under extreme pressure, Danson manages to manufacture a shot from nothing, which just goes wide of the post.

Argentina's response was to get the ball forward through an arial ball but it goes nowhere and Great Britain turn it around and go back on that attack. The problem is that the ball once again goes to a player who tries to run through the entire Argentine defence giving away the ball in the processes.

Great Britain are now missing tackle after tackle and have allowed Rebecchi to take the ball to the back line and drive into the D. Storry comes to make the tackle but a fabulous bit of skill from Rebecchi moves the ball beyond Storry and then she just rolls it into the goal. 2-0 Argentina. The two recovering Great Britain defenders were just too slow to react and prevent the ball going over the line.

Great Britain players are arguing with umpire Roach about an offence which cannot be reviewed and if they are not careful, somebody is going to be sent off.

From the restart, Great Britain get the ball into the Argentine area but just can't create a scoring opportunity. Argentina bring the ball away and Great Britain just need to see out the last few seconds of this half and get into the changing room and reset their minds.

Despite the possession that Great Britain had in the first half, they were unable to turn it into any meaningful attack or shot on goal. As the half went on, play got more an more animated and composure went out of the window. If Great Britain are to get back into this match, they need to find a quick goal at the start of the second half and then contain Argentina.

Second Half

Great Britain started the second half in the same manner as the first half. Long ball into the Argentine 23m area but it rolls off the back line, allowing Argentina to get it clear. Great Britain intercepted the ball from the restart and moved it across the pitch to Danson who drove in to the D, winning a free hit.

The ball goes into the D and although Great Britain once again failed to get off a decent shot, they did win a penalty corner. Cullen steps up, the ball is injected, stopped and brave running from an Argentine defender forced the ball out of play at the sideline. Danson has taken the hit quickly but made a mess of it, allowing Argentina to take their time and get the ball away.

The relieving ball sails into the crowd and Great Britain have taken the free hit and driven themselves back into the Argentine 23m area. Thomas is once again isolated with the ball and this has happened all too often. Whenever Great Britain have had possession, the Argentine defence has isolated the player on the ball and nobody has made a post run to help them find a route out.

Thomas is winning free hit after free hit but she has nowhere to go, Eventually the ball goes over the back line and Argentina get a chance to put the ball in the Great Britain half. It was a poor clearance and Great Britain have once again driven the ball toward the Argentine D but there is nobody able to get a shot onto the goalkeeper.

The game has now settled into a pattern. Great Britain put Argentina under pressure in their half of the pitch, run out of options and Argentina hit the ball long and off the Great Britain back line. This forces Great Britain to turn around, collect the ball and start again. It might not be pretty hockey but it is effective and it is eating up the time.

Walsh is working very hard, feeding the ball forward to the midfield who are trying to get the ball into Danson or Richardsen but the final balls are just not coming off. Danson gets the ball again, drives through two Argentine players and wins another free hit just outside the D. The hit is taken, the ball fired in but it is easily cleared by the massed Argentine defence. Once again, a Great Britain player has the ball and finds themself surrounded by three Argentine defenders who win the free hit.

So far, this half has seen a huge improvement in effort by Great Britain but they just can't seem to get any reward for all their hard work.

Argentina finally have some respite and have driven the ball into the Great Britain 23m. Solid defending by Great Britain forces Argentina to bring the ball back out to the midfield and after a short exchange of tackles and some misjudged passes by both sides, Great Britain are once again on the attack, Danson has made her way into the Argentine D but the shot is weak, right at the goalkeeper and she takes her time and just kicks it clear to the sideline.

Argentina come away with the ball down their left but it has been put out for a long corner. After some good defending from Great Britain, they win a sideline hit and can once again drive down to the Argentine end of the pitch. Argentina are once again tackling aggressively and eventually win the ball back. Back chat from the Great Britain forwards sees the umpire move the free hit up 10 metres. Great Britain in danger of losing their composure again.

There are just 19 minutes left in this game and both teams have put in a huge amount of running so far and it will soon begin to tell on player fitness. Great Britain have another opportunity in the Argentine D but the attacker is too slow getting the shot off and the defender has time to just steal the ball off of their stick.

Argentina mount a rare attack in this half and it was Walsh, again, doing the hard work at the back to make the tackle and bring the ball forward. Argentina have lost a player to a green card and Great Britain need to take advantage of the power play. They can't. Argentina just stand there, calm, unruffled and refused to be pressured into a mistake.

This is where Argentina's recent experiences in major competitions is paying off. They know they have a comfortable lead and that it is up to Great Britain to do all the work. All they need to do is stand strong and not make any silly mistakes.

A real chance for Great Britain saw the ball fall to Richardsen. She has all the time in the world to get off a shot but snatches at it and top edges the ball. That's the best chance Great Britain has created and it has been wasted. With less than 15 minutes left on the clock, that could be a game changer.

If Great Britain are to get anything out of this game it has to come from Cullen, Danson and Richardson. At the back, Walsh is giving it everything she can while Storry has had nothing to do so far in this half.

Great Britain are now beginning to lose the battle for the 50/50 balls in the centre but the umpires intervene and Argentina have Aymar sent off on a green card. Another two minutes for Great Britain to try and create chances. Argentine defenders put in some fantastic tackles, forcing their opponents to once again go down a blind alley. Any Great Britain player on the ball is finding it increasingly hard to see their team mates.

Argentina bring the ball away and Aymar is now back on the pitch. With seven minutes to go, Argentina are down the Great Britain end of the pitch. Great Britain desperately need to get the ball downt the other end of the pitch and get shots on goal. They've had plenty of possession but not in the D where it counts.

Great Britain win another free hit outside the Argentine D, the ball is fired across and it's tipped into the net by who else but Danson. The score is 2-1 and there is still just enough time for Great Britain to salvage something here.

The goal has woken the crowd up and they are getting behind the home side. Argentina are trying to slow the game down and eventually get a warning off of the umpires about wasting time. Great Britain are mounting more desperate attacks on the Argentine goal but it just isn't happening. A quick break by Argentina and there is a threat to the Great Britain goal but Storry is out and down very quickly to snuff it out.

The hooter goes and Argentina have won this hard fought match 2-1. They were unquestionably the better side on the night although Great Britain have played themselves to a virtual standstill.

All over the pitch, there are Great Britain players on their knees and in tears. On another day, they might have made more of their chances but now they have to pick themselves up and get ready for the bronze medal match against New Zealand in two days time.

For Argentina. this was a competent performance and they will be looking forward to what promises to be a cracking match against Netherlands for the gold medal

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