Sunday, June 16, 2024

Women’s Hockey World Cup: Spirited England set up Holland showdown


“People who bought those tickets didn’t think they would get such a good game.”

So said Susannah Townsend, referring to the fact that England have now set up a last eight heavyweight showdown against Holland, admittedly a few days before the weekend, when the hope was for the two rivals to meet in the World Cup final.

Still, it’s billed as a clash against the top two teams in the world and it’s set to be some night at the Olympic Park. But although England are finding momentum with each passing hour, there’s no denying the fact that the Dutch remain heavy favourites.

Tuesday night saw England face another team content to sit deep. This time, they had to deal with numerous aerial throws forward. This time Grace Balsdon, Giselle Ansley and Anna Toman happily controlled the threats.

Further up field, Hannah Martin’s early running set the tone. Alex Danson (a glaring miss aside when she should have passed to Sophie Bray for an open goal) was flying and attacking with her usual vigour in the circle, while Bray had her best game of the World Cup.

An early Bray goal on the second attempt set up England to score again and do what the Dutch do so well and kill off games in the first or second quarter. But that goal didn’t come, with chances aplenty.

As the the second-half wore on, Korea always had the chance to pounce. Taking off their goalkeeper, they struck balls into the D late on. A hockey lottery, as Danny Kerry said afterwards, while Maddie Hinch’s two late saves stopped a shoot out. Then came a late burst and Owsley weaved low into the D and slotted home. Cue euphoria.

“When they started thrashing the ball in the circle you are always anxious and it becomes a bit of a lottery there,” said Kerry. “You use the football terminology of ‘let’s keep putting it in the mixer and something will fall.’

“For a game we largely controlled, to them taking off their goalie and smashing it in our circle, it was like ‘okay, let’s stand tough here’.”

Once again Kerry was happy with the way England played.

“We’ve played well in this tournament. If we weren’t generating chances I would be annoyed.

“We took their game away from them. It’s about keeping the opposition homnest. The fact that Korea threw so many aerials was testament to how well we took away their normal game.”

Kerry, who has looked relaxed in this campaign, did seem particularly vexed by one moment which could have made England’s passage less tense: Danson’s first-half chance.

It was their best opportunity to double the lead and came shortly before the hooter as Danson produced a trademark dive to connect with the ball as the Korean goalie advanced. Both collided, Owsley couldn’t find enough lift, while an unmarked Bray was the better option.

“I was particularly frustrated when Alex should have passed to Sophie,” said Kerry. “We will have that conversation as that was an empty goal that needed to go in.”

Now for the Dutch, who’ve had three full days off and a tournament where they haven’t been tested.

“They won’t think of it as a problem,” said Giselle Ansley. “For us, this is what we train for. We’ve got the running in our legs and it’s about putting in a very good performance.

“It’s pretty early to be meeting the Dutch but as a player it’s one of the games you look forward to: No 1 v No 2 in the world, what more could you want?”

The Hockey Paper’s World Cup coverage is supported by St. Bert’s Clothing – SUMMER SALE

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