New Zealand stun Aussies in Pool B opener; Germany get past USA challenge
Argentina vs. South Africa 7-1 (half-time: 5-1)
Argentina blew South Africa away in the first half to get their Olympic campaign off to a breathtaking start at a soaked Riverbank Arena in front of a crowd of over 12,500. They ran up a 5-1 lead by the interval as the inter-changing lines of the likes of Daniela Sruoga, Delfina Merino and Carla Rebecchi was too hot to handle.
Luciana Aymar was pulling the strings and it saw them run up a string of penalty corners. For the most part, Sulette Damons was doing a brilliant job to shut down Noel Barriosnuevo’s first phase efforts. But the rebounds fell kindly as, first, Aymar provided a neat dink before smashing home the third corner in the eighth minute, her 129thinternational effort.
Josefina Sruoga finished off the next after the ball got caught in Mariette Rix’s pads and she pounced to snap up from close range. South Africa did get one back a minute later, again an Argentinean corner proving the route. This time, however, Rix saved well and her side produced a full-length counter.
Shelly Russell worked the ball to Jennifer Wilson who picked a delightful cross for Dirkie Chamberlain to slide onto and score the pick of today’s goal to date. But Argentina were insatiable up front and there proved to be scant respite from the intense preesure. Martina Cavallero restored the two-goal advantage as Daniela Sruoga jinked through the circle.
From corner number six, Aymar notched her second, again a rebound while Carla Rebecchi picked off a peach of a reverse – Aymar the provider for 5-1 at the break. The second half proved a more sedate affair with Argentina sitting deeper, conserving energy while South Africa endeavoured to push on but could not break through.
Noel Barrionuevo’s neatly worked corner-switch extended the margin to 6-1 with nine minutes to go while Silvina D’Elia’s unpressurised hit from her side’s ninth corner completed the rout late on.
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Germany vs USA 2-1 (2-0 half-time)
Germany scraped to victory over the USA but they were hugely relieved as the USA had them on the ropes for the majority of the second half, Yvonne Frank just about keeping the three points in tact. They looked to be cruising when Fanny Rinne’s drag-flick and a classy Lisa Hahn finish had them 2-0 up at half-time. But the US earned four second half corners, one of which Lauren Crandall scrambled home.
It set up a grandstand closing quarter in which the Americans looked the more likely to score next but Frank ensured no more goals came. Like many of the other fancied tournament challengers today, Germany appeared to have the game wrapped up at half-time. They forced Amy Swensen into two brilliant early saves, the latter a sliding effort to deny Lisa Hahn’s corner deflection at the right post. But she was powerless to deny the second corner, Fanny Rinne emphatically picking out the top corner eight minutes in.
Pure German class saw them move 2-0 up. A swift diagonal attack from right to left saw Janne Muller-Wieland locate Hahn drifting left and away from goal. She was unmarked but still had plenty to do from a narrow angle but unleashed a rocket on her reverse.
There were plenty of signs in the first half that the US were keen for the fight, though, and they returned after the break fired up. Laubach drew an excellent touch from Frank after a successful video referral appeal won their second corner.
Kayla Bashore-Smedley was bossing midfield at this stage and her incisive pass found Michelle Vitesse with a golden chance to get one back but she dithered too long when Frank was prone.
A corner did ensue, though, and Laubach’s drag took a couple of deflections before injector Crandall dived on it to pull one back. Katie O’Donnell thought she had a leveller only for Julia Reinprecht to intervene with a foot before the ball rolled in before Frank smothered another O’Donnell volley. It was just not to be and Germany held on for what could be a vital three points.
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New Zealand vs. Australia: 1-0 (half-time: 1-0)
The blue and pink Riverbank Arena was looking stunningly beautiful under the bright sunshine for the start of Olympic hockey. The two teams from Oceania were the first teams to take to the pitch at this Olympics and the emotion of the players was palpable during the anthems.
The Australians were nervous in the first minutes and conceded a penalty-corner on the first incursion of the New Zealanders in the circle, and Cathryn Finlayson scored the first goal of the Olympic competition to give New Zealand an early lead.
Australia quickly got rid of their early jitters and started to push back New Zealand on their heels. Megan Rivers thought that she had scored after a superb run into the circle, but her powerful shot hit the post and nobody was on hand for the rebound. The game then settled in a balanced contest, between two teams very close in the FIH Ranking (6th for New Zealand, 7th for Australia).
Anna Flanagan was close to tie the score for Australia with a powerful low shot on penalty-corner, but Black Sticks’ goalkeeper Bianca Russell saved it with an acrobatic dive. New Zealand successfully appealed to the video-umpire to avoid another penalty-corner late in the period, but were surprised in the last seconds by Anna Flanagan, who received a long ball behind the defense. Bianca Russell was once again up to the task and half-time was reached with the one-goal lead for New Zealand.
The Black Sticks were faster out of the starting blocks in the second half and Charlotte Harrison received an excellent ball from Katie Glynn but, alone in front of the goal, could not turn fast enough to beat Toni Cronk in the Australian goal. The match continued with end-to-end attacks, keeping the near capacity crowd entertained, with very vocal contingents of Aussies and Kiwis.
With time running out, the Australians became more desperate in their attacks. Georgia Nanscawen, Casey Eastham and Hope Munro were very active upfront but the Black Sticks’ defense, efficiently backed by Bianca Russell, once again held tight. With two minutes to go, Australia replaced their goalkeeper with an extra field player. The gambit nearly paid off on their first attack, but it was too little too late and New Zealand earned the 3 points of the win on the benefit of their early goal.
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