(Photo: © FIH / Gordon Morrison)

The Japanese women’s Olympic campaign got off to a good start today when they walked away with three points from their encounter with New Zealand, while host nation China impressed greatly against Spain, winning 3:0. Australia produced the most amazing of comebacks, finding themselves 4:1 down only to win 5:4. Argentina, despite being 2:0 up, could only manage a 2-2 draw with USA. South Africa were crushed 6:0 by The Netherlands, with former RSA player Marilyn Agliotti getting on the score sheet. In the final game of the day, Germany had no trouble getting past Great Britain, winning the match 5:1.

Japan defeat New Zealand 2:1 (2:1)

In the Olympic tournament’s opening encounter, the fifth-ranked Japanese women defeated 8th-ranked New Zealand for the start of their campaign, protecting their 2:1 halftime lead from two early goals against a Blacksticks team that played well in patches but could not score today, despite a final balance of 10 shots on goal compared to Japan’s only six.

New Zealand had the better start, looking likely to score, but their plans were derailed in the early stages by their opponents when Sakae Morimoto scooped the ball past goalkeeper Beth Jurgeleit off a brilliant Kaori Chiba pass to give Japan the lead against the run of play. Interestingly, Sakae Morimoto was also the player to score Japan’s first goal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

Looking shellshocked by the sudden turn of the tide, the Blacksticks took another blow little later, giving away a penalty corner that Japan made good use of. A superb variation saw a hit towards the left side of the goal that Toshie Tsukui dived in on, deflecting the ball up and over Jurgeleit with incredible accuracy.

Japan looked energetic and resourceful against a struggling New Zealand side in this phase of the match, but could not extend their lead. The Kiwis on the other hand forced their way back into the match with a penalty corner late in the first half, as Jaimee Claxton deflected a hit from Lizzie Igasan. The teams thus went into the break with Japan in the lead.

After the re-start oft he match, New Zealand employed a high press in their attempt to level the scores, but it was still Japan that looked more likely to score for the bigger part of the second 35 minutes. New Zealand kept increasing the pressure but found it difficult to create danger until very late in the game.

The stadium erupted in cheers seven minutes from the end when a ball hit the backboard in the Japanese goal but no Blacksticks player had touched the long hit into the circle, and it was no goal. New Zealand went on to attacking frantically in this end phase of the match and they were now able to create a number of opportunities, but to no avail.

With the minutes ticking down mercilessly, they were incapable of stopping the points drifting away from them, and the goalless second half turned the 2-1 halftime score into the final one. Japan celebrate a terrific start into the event, while their opponents left the field with faces spelling utter disappointment.

China defeat Spain 3:0 (2:0)

China outclassed Spain in their opening match of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, winning the contest 3:0. Field goals from Baorong FU, Hongxia LI and Lihua GAO secured a convincing victory over their opponents, although in truth it could easily have been many more. It was a terrific performance from China, who clearly stated that they will be a difficult side to beat in this tournament in front of a passionate and excitable home crowd.

The first half saw the host nation playing their usual high tempo hockey, forcing the Spanish players deep into their own half. It seemed as though China had taken a lead in the 7th minute when Chunling TANG forced the ball over the line, but the goal was ruled out for an infringement, much to the disappointment of the home supporters. China were rampant, but their failure to open the scoring was so nearly punished by Georgina Oliva, who deflected a penalty corner onto the post of the China goal in the 13th minute.

China took the lead in the 17th minute when Baorong FU fired a powerful reverse stick shot from the left into the bottom right corner of the goal, sending the crowd wild in appreciation. Then, in the 37th minute, Hongxia LI scored an almost identical strike to that of FU, firing beyond Spain’s keeper Maria Jesus Rosa on the reverse to make it 2:0.  After a long period of dominance, it was no more than China deserved.

The second half was very much like the first, almost completely dominated by China. It took just two minutes from the restart for China to move into an unassailable 3:0 lead when Lihua GAO tapped into the net with ease following an impressive passing move that ripped through the heart of the Spanish defence. It was the second Olympics in a row that GAO had scored the third goal of the match against Spain. In the final 20 minutes of the match, Yudiao ZHAO missed two glorious opportunities to increase the score-line, but it was never likely to affect the final result. China was the deserving winner, and walked off the field to the sound of rapturous applause from their supporters. 

Australia defeat Korea 5:4 (1:4)

In the third match of the day, amidst light rain and at moderate temperatures, Australia took on Korea in their first match and went on to produce a fairytale pull-around of a match that by all means was lost already.

In a see-sawing beginning during which both teams had their opportunities, Korea took the lead through a brilliant Mi Seon Kim goal, finishing off a long solo run with a diagonal ball past Rachel Imison. Australia quickly replied with the equalizer by Shelly Liddelow but then lost concentration and could not avoid Korea going off on a scoring spree, putting away three goals in the last eight minutes of the first half for a 4:1 half-time lead.

But then the big surprise happened. After the break, the Hockeyroos awoke from their apathy, and started catching up. Team captain Nikki Hudson led the way with a reverse stick goal 12 minutes into the second half, followed by Shelly Liddelow’s second goal of the day and the equalizer from Sarah Young.

Jung Hee Kim finally became the one to tragically decide the match as she deflected a ball from Casey Eastham that was parallel to the goal line unluckily straight into the goal, out of reach for the Korean goalkeeper.

A disappointing loss for Korea who had started into the match so well and punched far above their weight during the first half, against a team ranked six places ahead of them. Hats off to the Hockeyroos who played an inspiring game, not giving up after a seemingly unsurmountable 3 goal lag to take three valuable points.

Argentina draw USA 2:2 (2:1)

Competition favorite Argentina were held by the USA in their opening game, despite having multiple opportunities to establish a comfortable lead.

Argentina had a flying start and were promptly up by two goals after 11 minutes of play. Both goals were scored by Carla REBECCHI, the first one with a deflection on a penalty-corner and the second with a hard shot from the top of the circle after a decisive run from the 25m. With rain starting to fall heavily, the pace slowed down and the Argentinean play became tentative. The USA grab this chance to come back in the game and scored in the 18th minute with a well executed penalty-corner deflected by Keli SMITH. 

Argentina dominated the second half, lead by a very active Luciana Aymar who was often monopolizing 2 or 3 American defenders, but  they could not score the additional goal that would have given them a more comfortable cushion. They had 17 shots on goals and an unusually large number of penalty-corners (12!) but were consistently denied by a well regrouped American defense and a stellar Amy TRAN in the USA goal. USA were twice reduced to ten players by yellow cards but fought very hard to stay in contention, stunning the Argentinean defense in the 64th minute with a quickly played free hit that found Angela LOY alone in front the goal and she didn’t waste this chance to tie the game.

Argentina will certainly regret their surprising lack of efficiency in front of the goal and the two lost points that could make a difference at the end of pool play.

Netherlands defeat South Africa 6:0 (2:0)

The current World Champions assertively laid out their claim to the top spot in this event today with a 6-0 victory over South Africa in their opener here in Beijing.

There were phases in the match during which the South Africans could tease the superior Dutch side, but overall, the Oranjes controlled the encounter from start to finish.

An early Eefke Mulder goal got the Dutch on the scoreboard for the first time, but it took them almost 30 minutes to score another. The second goal then was a penalty corner, converted with one of the often used variations in the Dutch repertoire, the hit towards the right post for deflection by Marilyn Agliotti. Agliotti thus did not only play her former team today, a team she played for in the 2000 Olympic Games, but also scored against her former team mates.

After the break, the Netherlands took their time adding more goals, but was never in any danger to give anything away. Maartje Paumen sank two penalty corners, while Minke Booij converted one, and Wieke Dijkstra piled on a late goal with a fierce reverse stick shot that sent the ball into the roof of the goal.

The Netherlands thus take three points and claim the top of the table in pool A, ahead of China and Australia, all on three points, while Korea, Spain and South Africa bring up the rear.

Germany defeat Great Britain 5:1 (2:1)

Germany showed that, despite not being tournament favourites, they are not going to give up their Olympic title easily, thanks to a resounding victory over Great Britain.
The first half was a closely fought contest between the two pool B sides, but Germany were marginally the better side and took the lead in the 26th minute thanks to a powerful penalty corner flick from Fanny Rinne. Great Britain hit back almost immediately with a penalty corner of their own, when Crista Cullen’s deflected effort found its way past Kristina Reynolds in the Germany goal to level the scores. However, Germany were back in front just two minutes later when Eileen Hoffmann scored the first of her two goals in this game. Her second came in the 49th minute from a penalty corner to give Germany a 3:1 lead, before strikes from Rinne and Marion Rodewald ensured that there was no way back for Great Britain.


2008 Olympic Games, Women - Beijing, China
Results Sunday August 10

Japan – New Zealand 2:1 (2:1)
JPN Sakae MORIMOTO (FG) 12min
JPN Toshie TSUKUI (PC) 17min
NZL Jaimee CLAXTON (PC) 25min

China – Spain 3:0 (2:0)
CHN Baorong FU (FG) 17min
CHN Hongxia LI (FG) 31min
CHN Lihua GAO (FG) 37min

Australia – Korea 5:4 (1:4)
KOR Mi Seon KIM (FG) 18min
AUS Shelly LIDDELOW (FG) 25min
KOR Darae KIM (FG) 27min
KOR Sung Hee GIM (PC) 32min
KOR Mi Hyun PARK (FG) 34min
AUS Nikki HUDSON (FG) 47min
AUS Shelly LIDDELOW (FG) 50min
AUS Sarah YOUNG (FG) 56min
AUS Casey EASTHAM (FG) 65min

Argentina - USA 2 :2 (2 :1)
ARG  Carla REBECCHI (PC) 5min
ARG  Carla REBECCHI (FG) 11mn
USA  Keli SMITH (PC) 18mn
USA  Angela LOY (FG) 18mn

Netherlands – South Africa 6:0 (2:0)
NED Eefke MULDER (FG) 5min
NED Marilyn AGLIOTTI (PC) 27min
NED Maartje PAUMEN (PC) 46min
NED Minke BOOIJ (PC) 56min
NED Maartje PAUMEN (PC) 58min
NED Wieke DIJKSTRA (FG) 66min

Germany – Great Britain 5:1 (2:1)
GER Fanny RINNE (PC) 26min
GBR Crista CULLEN (PC) 29min
GER Eileen HOFFMANN (FG) 31min
GER Eileen HOFFMANN (PC) 49min
GER Fanny RINNE (FG) 52min
GER Marion RODEWALD (FG) 60min