Sunday, July 21, 2024

Olympic hockey qualifiers: Great Britain joy as Tokyo 2020 tickets confirmed

THP Report | Lee Valley

It took several seconds after the final hooter, but then the moment dawned for the 11 players out on the Lee Valley pitch. Great Britain women can now safely talk of Tokyo and defending their title at next year’s Olympics. Relief and joy were spread across Great Britain’s faces in equal measure. Then came the multiple hugs as the wider squad and coaching staff were able to celebrate together after a testing year.

It certainly hasn’t been easy going for GB since Rio, with retirements, long-term injuries, a change of coach and young, battling players experiencing the cut and thrust of the Pro League.

But when it mattered, after an intense training period following the EuroHockey Championships, GB came good over two Olympic play-off legs here to beat Chile 5-1 on aggregate. Come good in the betting stakes with the tips on offer from

“There is so much relief, we came here under immense pressure and essentially it’s job done,” said Maddie Hinch.

“It’s a new group and we are starting our own legacy. This weekend there was a huge amount amount of pressure but it showed we can cope with it.”

The next phase will be equally tough as players now fight for one of 16 coveted tickets to Tokyo as defending champions. “It’s back to training, back to Bisham and now we have made Tokyo anything can happen,” added Hinch.

Their 3-0 and 2-1 victories over Chile were also their first back-to-back wins as a GB unit since their record run at the Olympics.

And following the nervy opening to Saturday’s fixture, Mark Hager’s side were in no mood to offer the same on Sunday as fine goals from Tess Howard and Laura Unsworth, with unbeatable reverse shots, ended Chile’s hopes.

Howard found space at the top of the D and unleashed a telling backhand in the fourth minute, while Unsworth went high with her reverse three minutes later to hand GB a five-goal cushion.

Chile did well to stem the tide thereafter and, with qualification assured, the game never kicked on, the scoreboard threatened or continued momentum in the final third.

Perhaps that was down to a notable figure entering the Chile camp, coach Sergio Vigil having welcomed a pre-match pep talk from Leeds United coach Marcelo Bielsa as the South Americans looked to pull back a three-goal deficit.

They did their hardest to get on the score sheet and they never gave up the chance, despite being hampered by several on-field injuries and a litany of cards over the two legs.

Their best chance had come when they had a goal ruled out in the third quarter, Hinch beaten with a volley tap in, but the ball hadn’t travelled five metres before entering the D.

Yet, they were finally rewarded with a goal four minutes from time when Fernanda Villagran slotted home through Britain’s defence.

But Britain’s own defence can now be fixed on Tokyo. There will be seven Rio experienced hands, plus the rise of the likes of Anna Toman and Hannah Martin, both impressive this weekend, and the emergence of the young brigade: Howard, Izzy Petter, Lizzie Neal etc. Hager looks to have found a nucleus. Now the hard work can begin.

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