Hockey at these Games is played at the Oi Stadium, and if that sounds impertinent it has nothing on the impudent, insolent and downright rude manner in which the Netherlands dispatched Great Britain in the Olympic semi-finals and ended the reign of the women’s champions.
Team GB were swatted aside 5-1 by the imperious Dutch, who took their revenge for what they saw as an upstart British victory in 2016’s final that interrupted their dominance of the women’s game. Here, the world order was restored.
Two goals within a minute at the start of the second quarter by Felice Albers and Marloes Keetels did the damage and from there it was only a question of how many more they would score. Three was the answer, with strikes by Maria Verschoor, a second for Albers and Frédérique Matla adding the gloss. At 4-0 down Britain scored a consolation through Giselle Ansley’s penalty corner but there was no way back.
Britain’s goalkeeper, Maddie Hinch, so often the saviour, tried her best to be positive. “We haven’t become a bad team after one game and we are still going to fight for this bronze medal, which we would be incredibly proud of if we come away with it,” Hinch said.
Asked if bronze would mean as much as gold, given the vastly changed nature of the Tokyo squad since Rio, Hinch added: “Yes. Given the whole cycle – covid, change of coaches – then it would be massive for us.”
Five years ago Hinch was the hero in the Rio final, repelling wave after wave of Dutch attacks, saving a penalty stroke during normal time and keeping the reigning champions at bay during the climactic shootout. The world’s No 1 side have neither forgiven nor forgotten Britain’s victory and it has been a catalyst for Dutch domination, the Oranje having won every tournament they have entered since that shock defeat: the World Cup, three European titles and the first two editions of the Hockey Pro League.
But there were early signs of nerves from the Dutch when they made a dog’s dinner of their first penalty corner, the ball missing the stop completely and heading out of play on the touchline. Britain’s first penalty corner was almost as poor and followed a frustratingly familiar theme at this tournament: over-elaborate and, ultimately, wasteful.
There were no more nerves from the Dutch after that. Two penalty corners at the end of the first quarter, one forcing a fine Hinch double save from the shot and rebound, showed ominous intent. So it proved when early in the second quarter they delivered a bodyblow to the Olympic champions. First, Albers fired through Hinch’s legs. Britain’s guardian at the gates had been breached.
It felt almost a shock to hear the ball thwack against the backboard. Perhaps it stunned Team GB too, because a minute later, Keetels was given too much time in the circle to get away a clinical strike that gave GB a Mount Fuji to climb in 32C heat against a team that had conceded just two goals in their previous six games.
In the third quarter Verschoor deflected a penalty corner strike high into Hinch’s net before Albers flicked home from close range for a fourth. Ansley’s penalty corner saved some face, but the game was gone and Matla added a fifth in a goalmouth scramble.
Britain face a bronze final on Friday morning against India, while the Dutch will bid to regain their perch in the gold final against Argentina later in the day.