England winning a penalty shoot-out? Wonders never cease, and SARAH JUGGINS says the women’s national hockey team and Maddie Hinch deserve your British Sports Awards votes
To paraphrase one of the multitude of talent shows that are perpetually on our television screens at the moment, England women’s hockey team have been on one hell of a journey in the past 18 months.
A dire performance at the 2014 World Cup saw the team slip down the world rankings from third to eighth.
With the sacking of coach Jason Lee and a number of changes in playing personnel, it seemed that it was going to be a long rebuilding process.
Compare the tears and recriminations of the World Cup last June with the delirious joy as England swept to a dramatic victory in August this year at the EuroHockey Championships.
Players, coaching staff and the 5,000-strong home crowds at the Lee Valley Hockey Centre in the Olympic Park could hardly believe it as, with just nine minutes left on the clock, England came back from a 2-0 deficit against the reigning World Cup and Olympic champions, the Netherlands.
The full-time score was 2-2 which meant the match was to decided by penalty shoot-out. The crowd might have been vocal and enthusiastic, but whenever any England team, in any sport, faces a shoot-out at a crucial stage of a competition, there is always an element of doubt in the air.
Standing between England and victory were five top quality strikers, including international player of the year, Ellen Hoog and a predecessor to that honour, Maartje Paumen. In goal for the Dutch was Joyce Sombroek, judged to be the best goalkeeper in the world.
Between the posts for England was self-confessed “hockey geek” Maddie Hinch, who is famous for having a notebook full of stats and facts on all the players she faces. It was to be the day that Hinch’s homework paid off. She saved the Netherland’s first two attempts. With the shoot-out score at 2-1 to England, Hinch needed to make one more save, which she did. Seconds later she disappeared under a mob of England players as the team celebrated their first gold medal at a major championship since 1991.
This was the team’s second notable victory of the year. Earlier, playing as Great Britain in the Hockey World League Semi-Finals, the team was imperious as they swept to victory and secured an automatic qualification for the Rio Olympics. Among the team’s victims in that competition were Argentina – currently ranked third in the world; the United States, who had been on an winning steak since the 2014 World Cup; China, who are ranked two places higher than Great Britain; and the old nemesis Germany.
Speaking in the week before the EuroHockey victory, Helen Richardson-Walsh spoke of the way the team had hit rock bottom after their World Cup misadventure. “But,” said the England midfielder, “we almost needed to do that to be in the strong position we are in right now. This team has been to some dark places and now it has emerged the other side with a real voracious appetite for hard work.”
- Hockey journalist Sarah Juggins is the Treasurer of the SJA
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- Who do you think deserves SJA members’ votes for Sportsman, Sportswoman or Team of the Year? Send your pitch – no more than 400 words – to firstname.lastname@example.org, with “SJA Sports Awards” in the subject field, and we may publish it here
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UPCOMING SJA EVENTS
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