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GB face Argentina in semi-final

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While other Olympic team sports such as handball, water polo and volleyball are hoping the London 2012 Games can leave a legacy on the British public, hockey is looking to build on already firm foundations.

Widely played across the country, by men, women, boys and girls of all ages, the Great Britain women’s squad arrived at their home Olympics with a ‘gold mentality’ after making significant progress in recent years under coach Danny Kerry.

And they began the tournament with a bang, beating Japan (4-0), Korea (5-3) and Belgium (3-0) amid much celebration at the Riverbank Arena.

Captain Kate Walsh needed surgery on a broken jaw, sustained in the opening fixture, yet returned to the side as they were edged out 2-1 by China on Saturday.

But China’s defeat at the hands of Japan yesterday afternoon, meant the Brits were assured of a semi-final place before pushback against world no.1 Holland.

It was hardly a dead rubber, though, with top billing in the group to play for – and a possible psychological advantage to be gained in a potential gold medal dress rehearsal.

But after Crista Cullen’s first-half goal put GB ahead, the Dutch rallied for a 2-1 win, which means the hosts will meet Argentina in the last four tomorrow night (8pm).

There was the usual excitement among the 16,000 crowd, in temporary stands that are to be dismantled post-Games.

And there was no shortage of colour, with GB playing in their all red kit and the Dutch in white, to a backdrop of blue and pink – with a smattering of orange all around the venue.

Both sets of fans appeared to be enjoying the drink that refreshes parts other cannot reach in an all-round genial atmosphere, quickly becoming a hallmark of this Olympic summer.

The GB brass band was quick to pipe up at the back of the stand, playing bursts of ‘When the Saints go marching in’ and ‘Is this the way to Amarillo?’ but it was the Dutch who had the better of the opening exchanges, before the first Mexican wave rolled around the Riverbank.

It wasn’t your typical crowd participation act, though, as the wave started up behind the Dutch goal and went in opposite directions before meeting at the other end behind GB’s Beth Storry!

Supporters launched into their own chants of “GB!” and “Holland!” before the first chance of note arrived in the ninth minute, when Kelly Jonker missed a good opportunity at the far post for the Dutch.

Laura Bartlett led a British attack, only for the move to break down near the D, but the noise levels increased again during another raid by the hosts.

Kitty van Male received a green card for trip on Helen Richardson but the shorthanded Dutch went closest to scoring when Maartje Goderie saw her shot deflected wide off a GB defender’s foot for the first penalty corner of the game.

The routine broke down, thankfully, to grant GB an escape and a burst of co-ordinated stamping left the media tribune shaking.

A great run by Sarah Thomas had GB fans shrieking, but Alex Danson was dispossessed by a miserly Dutch defence as she looked to carry it on.

Danson’s shot on the turn, soon after, smashed into leg of Sophie Polkamp, though, to earn GB their first penalty corner on 29 minutes.

And they made it count as Ashleigh Ball injected the ball from the baseline, Laura Unsworth trapped it and London’s Crista Cullen scooped a low drag flick past the leg pad of Dutch keeper Joyce Sombroek and inside the left-hand post for her fourth goal of the Games.

The cheers of the home supporters rang out into the cool night air, but there was a let-off on the next Dutch attack as Kim Lammers deflected a driven ball just wide.

A stick tackle by Hannah Macleod gave the visitors a corner of their own before the break, but Storry’s superb diving save denied Dutch captain Maartje Paumen.

And GB had Storry to thank again early in the second half as she raced from her line to make a blocking save on Lammers.

‘Can’t take my eyes off you’ by Andy Williams got an airing from the band before the Dutch won another corner, after a cross bounced off Georgie Twigg’s foot in the circle.

And the resulting set-piece move was too good to be true, as the Dutch slipped the ball to the left of Storry’s goal for Naomi van As to sweep home and level.

GB made things a little hard for themselves at times, but a good interception by Cullen was loudly cheered by fans as the Dutch looked to capitalise on another turnover.

The respite was brief, however, as the hosts fell behind midway through the half when a reverse stick shot was half-blocked and fell to Jonker, whose shot on the turn is helped over the line from close range by van Male.

‘Rule Britannia’ suddenly filled the airwaves from the brass section, in an attempt to spur on the GB girls, and Van As was shown a green card with 12 minutes left on the clock.

But strong defensive work by the Dutch frustrated GB time and again and only a stunning double save by Storry late on, to deny Ellen Hoog, prevented Holland netting a third.

In the grand scheme of things it didn’t matter too much. But next time, there could be an Olympic gold medal on the line.

Kerry said: “I’m pretty disappointed. I’ve spoken to the girls and been very straight with them and told them I expect much better than that.

“I know we are capable of much, much better than that. We were too passive in the second half and the equalising goal came because we weren’t thinking clearly.

“Being too passive was unacceptable and if we’re going to do well in the semi-final then people need to hear it straight.”

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