Thrilling opening day at Investec London Cup

Great Britain's Hannah Macleod battles with South Africa's Dirkie Chamberlain on day one of the Investec London Cup
The Investec London Cup got off to a flying start this afternoon in West London.  Hosts Great Britain suffered an opening day defeat to South Africa while reigning Olympic champions the Netherlands came from behind to seal a 2-1  victory over the Hockeyroos of Australia.

Report: NED v AUS
Report: GB v SA

* Follow the whole tournament in the international fixtures and results pages *

Match One: Netherlands 2 v 1 Australia

Blustery, chilly conditions greeted the two sides as the Netherlands and Australia lined up ahead of a packed arena of more than 1000 hockey supporters; a moment Ashleigh Nelson of Australia will remember for a long time as she was awarded her 100th cap.

Once the formalities were complete the 97th meeting between these two talented sides got underway. Although the game was played with plenty of energy, neither side was able to provide the necessary finish in the early stages. Dutch captain Maartje Paumen stood strong to deny any Australian attack of note but despite her attentions it was the goalkeeper from the Netherlands, Floortje Engels, who was called into action first when Casey Eastham found space for a reverse shot. Australian Eastham was at the centre of everything creative for the girls in green and gold but the final touch proved elusive. As half time approached, play continued to sway end to end with the Dutch going forward in numbers while the Australians carved counter attacking opportunities through individual determination.

The second half burst into life within a minute when the Dutch won the game’s first penalty corner but although Paumen could not find a way through the defence, it was clear that her side was beginning to pile on the pressure. Star midfielder Naomi van As showed her impressive range of skills to force mistakes but again the decisive touch was missing. Australia relied on turning defence into attack, indeed Ashleigh Nelson thought she had scored but the umpire gave a penalty corner instead of a goal. The taste of goal spurred the Australians on when Jade Close knocked a pinpoint pass from the right for Emily Smith who put her side 1-0 up with 46 minutes played. The Dutch responded immediately winning a series of penalty corners, the second of which captain Paumen forced home after the Australian goalkeeper Cronk had made the initial save. A goal was just what the number one side in the world needed as they pressed forward at every opportunity. A vicious stick tackle led to a penalty stroke, which Paumen converted for her second of the game.

Australia refused to sit back however, winning several penalty corners of their own; Jodie Schulz going closest with less than ten minutes to go. Both teams had further chances as the clock wound down but neither could convert them to goals.

Speaking after the match Australia captain Madonna Blyth remarked, “The result was a little disappointing as we were on top in patches”, while her counterpart Maartje Paumen said she was happy with how her side performed considering they hadn’t played together in a weeks.

Commenting on her 100th international appearance for Australia, Ashleigh Nelson said, “I’ve had one of those 24 hour bugs overnight so that wasn’t ideal preparation for the tournament but it was a memorable way to win my 100th cap.“

Australia’s second match at the Investec London Cup is on Wednesday at 17:30 against Ireland while the Netherlands have a rest day on Wednesday before returning to action against Ireland at 17:30 on Thursday.

Match Two: Great Britain 1 v 3 South Africa

As the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations were coming to a close the Great Britain women were beginning their pursuit of the Investec London Cup when they faced Commonwealth opposition in the shape of South Africa. With some key omissions from the Great Britain squad, including Captain Kate Walsh who was ruled out earlier in the day, the opening game proved too tough a task as a strong South African side secured a 3-1 victory.

Speaking after the game Great Britain Head Coach Danny Kerry said, “Missing 25% of our Olympic squad meant that this game was always going to be a tough ask, but the reality was that we still got enough chances to get a result.  South Africa deserve a lot of credit for their strong defending and taking their scoring opportunities.” Walsh missed the match after suffering an adverse reaction to tape used on her ankle.

Despite the deteriorating conditions both teams started with vigour, looking lively and keen to play an attacking style. South Africa’s Sulette Damons proved particularly difficult to manage with several strong, purposeful runs that would be the hallmark of her play for the whole of the game. She dealt the first blow in the match with a determined yet straightforward drive down the right, finished with a simple, powerful shot past Reading’s goalkeeper Beth Storry to make it 1-0.

As the rain got heavier the pitch got slower.  Stand-in Great Britain Captain Helen Richardson tried to stir her team into action through leading by example and running at the opposition. Laura Bartlett seized on a South Africa mistake in midfield, made good ground and created a chance at the edge of the circle for Richardson who couldn’t get enough on it. Moments later, at the other end of the pitch, Bernadette Coston didn’t have such problems as she took the direct route, rifling past the British defence to put her side two up with less than 10 minutes played.

The resilient crowd welcomed the positive response from the home side as they took the game on and immediately won a penalty corner, the first of the game. The South Africans dutifully coped with the threat but the Reading duo of Bartlett and Richardson soon combined again to keep the pressure on. Mariette Rix was forced to make a smart save after quick work by University of Birmingham’s Susie Gilbert with Richardson again the provider in the last action of the half.

Great Britain made a strong start to the second half winning a brace of penalty corners early on but they were unable to convert their chances and it was South Africa who added another goal to their tally. A blistering turn of pace from Sulette Damons left the GB defence trailing and a useful ball into the circle found FIH World All Star Pietie Coetzee who played in Jennifer Wilson for a close range finish.

As the rain continued to fall, Great Britain tried hard to break down a well drilled South African defence and they were eventually rewarded for their effort; Gilbert finding the backboard from close range on 65 minutes to provide a consolation.  Despite pressure from Great Britain in the closing minutes the match finished 3-1.

Despite the defeat Kerry was upbeat after the game adding, “Once we were down we went after the game really well and generated plenty of opportunities. We know which areas we need to work on for the next game.”

Captain Helen Richardson added, “The wet conditions slowed the ball down significantly and made it difficult for us to play the fast-paced game we are used to.” She, like Kerry, also refused to be downbeat about the performance, “We came here with some ideas about where we wanted to go and I definitely think we did that today.”

South Africa’s next match at the Investec London Cup is tomorrow against Germany at 20:00 while Great Britain have a rest day tomorrow before returning to action against Germany at 20:00 on Thursday.


*** Tickets for all four remaining days are still available online here or by calling 0844 499 3222 ***

Bag a bargain on Wednesday evening with two great games of hockey for just a tenner (and just a quid for a kid!) - see Australia take on Ireland and South Africa against Germany. Thursday pits GB in a cruch tie against rivals Germany, the side they beat in the Champions Trophy semi final four months ago.

Saturday is semi final day, PLUS the England Hockey Annual Awards Lunch 2012Join us for a fantastic three course meal and a memorable awards event, celebrating all that is brilliant about hockey in England.

Sunday's Final Day is set to be a thriller with three great games, all live on Sky Sports 3. Be in the crowd and cheer on the teams at Great Britain's last international tournament before the Olympics comes to town.

*** Buy tickets online, on the phone by calling 0844 499 3222 or on the gate. ***