And then there were four. The Riverbank roar is all set to salute some of the world’s finest hockey as the women of New Zealand and the Netherlands (3.30pm) kick-start the final sprint for the medals before Great Britain and Argentina meet (8pm) in the second semi-final.New Zealand offers a new element to proceedings, making it through to the final four for the first time in their Olympic history. Having finished 11th in Beijing, they came into the competition with a point to prove to themselves.
For the likes of Kayla Sharland, Krystal Forgesson, Emily Naylor and Gemma Flynn, China was a painful memory but they have provided the backbone to their emergence while players like Anita Punt and Charlotte Harrison have lit up this Games with their innovation and direct running.How they fare against the world number ones and reigning champs, the Netherlands, will be a huge test of Mark Hager’s charges and their resolve. Five wins from five have revealed few weak points around the field.
Max Caldas will be concerned that Maartje Paumen’s direct shooting has yielded no corner goals but the variations are starting to function. Defensively, the side have dealt well with the absence of Willemijn Bos while Eva de Goede has shone in midfield throughout, leading the forward orchestra. There, Kim Lammers has led the line with four field goals, providing a powerful fulcrum to the front-line.On the other side of the draw, Great Britain will hope to use the home support to full effect to get back the momentum that marked the initial phase of Pool A. Wiping out Japan, Korea and Belgium, they looked a formidable prospect, especially with Crista Cullen whipping home the drag-flicks – she shares the top-scorer mantle with Lammers.
But back-to-back 2-1 losses to China and the Dutch have tamed that rhythm to some extent. Kate Walsh has provided one of the stories of the Olympic Games, returning from a broken jaw inside six days to lead her side out in brave fashion, underpinning their defensive line.Helen Richardson and Sarah Thomas are the creative sparks who will look to unlock the Argentina defence, led by Silvina d’Elia. For Las Leonas, the hunger is evident in their pursuit of a first ever-Olympic victory after a number of near misses. Their route to the semi-finals was a roller coaster from the moment they fell 1-0 to the USA, forced to endure a nervy 0-0 draw with Australia to eventually become the last side to reach the final four.
Totems Carla Rebecchi and Luciana Aymar have both provided a trio of goals each. For the latter, she has often been subject to a double-team, making space from midfield hard to come by but a couple of delightful penalty corner moves have aided her side’s progress.