The women’s Olympic gold medal match was an all-European affair between then reigning Olympic and World champions Netherlands and Great Britain who, when playing as England, had beaten the Netherlands in the EuroHockey Championships the previous year. On that occasion, the match had gone to shoot-out after the Netherlands had dominated for large periods of time but had been unable to break down the opposition’s defence. Surely history couldn’t repeat itself?
Both teams played their pool matches with near perfection. The Netherlands topped their pool with four wins and one draw – the stalemate against a feisty New Zealand side. In the other pool, Great Britain had sailed through registering five wins from five.
In the Quarter-Finals, Netherlands faced Argentina, the South American's performing unexpectedly badly in the pool games, losing to USA, Great Britain and Australia. But Las Leonas would never bow out of a major competition without a fight and the 3-2 thriller had everything a top-notch hockey match could expect.
The Netherlands took a 3-0 lead through Lidewij Welten, Laurien Leurink and Kelly Jonker but then Florencia Habif and Delfina Merino led an Argentine fightback. The Netherlands came close to imploding as they were reduced to eight players for a short time as Eva de Goede, Naomi van As and Margot van Geffen were all dismissed temporarily from the field within the space of three minutes. The Dutch held on, but didn’t look their usual unassailable selves.
Great Britain also took a 3-0 lead in their Quarter-Final match against Spain. Georgie Twigg opened the scoring and was joined on the score-card by Helen Richardson-Walsh and Lily Owsley to open a sizeable lead by half-time. Georgina Oliva reduced the deficit in the final quarter but Great Britain were in the driving seat and moved smoothly into the Semi-Finals.
The first Semi-Final pitched Netherlands against their European rivals Germany, a team they had beaten 2-0 in the pool games. But Germany are a side that get better as a tournament progresses and so it proved as they held the Dutch to a 1-1 draw in regular time. The ensuing shoot-out was heart-breaking for Jamilon Muelders and his side as they came within a post’s width of winning. The eventual score was 4-3 to Netherlands after each side had taken seven shoot-out attempts. Ellen Hoog got the winner after Marie Mavers saw her attempt saved by Joyce Sombroek.
Great Britain faced New Zealand in a near repeat of the bronze medal match at London 2012 – a match Great Britain had won 3-1. Unfortunately for the Black Sticks, Great Britain were on a roll and the 3-0 scoreline reflects a performance in which Great Britain dominated large areas of play. Alex Danson scored twice and Helen Richardson-Walsh also got on the score-sheet.
And so to the Final. The Netherlands were favourites by virtue of world ranking and as the match wore on, most spectators were expecting an Oranje victory as Great Britain were forced to defend for large chunks of time. Against the run of play Lily Owsley scored the opening goal in the ninth minute before Kitty van Male and Maartje Paumen put Netherlands ahead. Crista Cullen made it 2-2 before van Male scored her second. Nicola White popped up to score in the 52nd minute and so the game went to shoot-out.
“I knew if we went to penalty shoot-out we could win,” said Great Britain's Head Coach Danny Kerry after the game whilst his Assistant, Karen Brown, recalled: “You could see just how nervous they [the Netherlands] were. It is never easy doing two consecutive shoot-outs and they also had the memory of losing in the EuroHockey final at the back of their mind.”
And so the shoot-out began, with Maddie Hinch proving why she was voted FIH Hockey Stars 2016 Goalkeeper of the Year. Four Dutch attempts were saved and it came down to Hollie Webb to score the decisive and medal clinching goal. As she turned and faced her team mates the joy in her face as she leapt in the air became a defining image of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games hockey competition.