LONDON, August 7 – On Wednesday evening Great Britain Hockey will take to the Riverbank Arena for their biggest match since the Atlanta Olympics.
Their semi-final opponents are world champions Argentina in what is shaping up to be the latest in an epic seires of hockey battles between the two nations.
In their last clash at a world-level event Argentina shaded Great Britain 1-0 in the Champions Trophy final in Rosario in February. But that was in front of 16 thousand Argentina fans. A home crowd in London is a different proposition.
GB midfielder Helen Richardson says las Leonas are a team whose approach to hockey suits the home side.
“We are really looking forward to playing Argentina. History shows we always have good games against them. They play the style of hockey we like to play against – open hockey. It will be nice to play in front of our home crowd rather than theirs,” Richardson said.
Great Britain defeated Argentina 2-0 twice at the Riverbank Arena in May at the VISA Iternational Invitational tournament. But on those occasions Argentine superstar Luciana Aymar was absent. ‘La Maga’ (the magician), who will be 35 on finals day in London, has had her playing workload heavily managed in the run up to London.
“She’s incredibly important to the Argentina team,” said 30 year-old Richardson. “If she plays well, they play well. But they are not just a one-player team.
“We will have to play well to beat them. We will have to play better than yesterday [the 3-1 loss to the Netherlands]. But we have the game plan to do it and we have the players to do it,” she said.
If Argentina make the podium in London, Aymar will become the first woman to win four Olympic hockey medals.
Great Britain have played Argentina four times at the Olympic Games and have won two, drawn one, lost one.
At Beijing the sides drew 2-2 with current player Sarah Thomas and now TV pundit Mel Clewlow scoring the GB goals. The biggest scoreline was 5-0 to GB in 1996, while Argentina defeated GB 1-0 in Sydney (2000) on their way to a silver medal. GB defeated Argentina 1-0 in 1988 in Seoul.
Great Britain women’s last Olympic medal chance was at the 1996 Olympic Games. In a competition with no semi-finals, they played the Netherlands for bronze, losing on strokes after the game finished 0-0. Karen Brown, now GB assistant coach, played in that match.