Cullen: It's all about the here and now

Crista Cullen poised at a penalty corner

 
Great Britain’s defensive colossus Crista Cullen has good reason to have fond memories of GB's last meeting at the Olympics with tonight’s opponents New Zealand. Four years ago Cullen netted a penalty corner and laid on two perfect assists for Alex Danson and Sarah Thomas as Great Britain captured a bronze medal in front of a home crowd.

Plenty of players have since described that day as “perfect” but if you think Cullen is getting misty eyed and reminiscing, you’d be very much mistaken.  The mantra of “one game at a time” is an oft repeated one in sporting circles and the Great Britain No5 is sticking firmly to it herself as she prepares for tonight’s big game:

“There’s a bit of a buzz in the group, which is important but I think we’re quite a level-headed bunch as well. Now we’re at the business end of the tournament it doesn’t matter what’s been, it matters what’s here and now.”

That here and now involves a Great Britain side in fine form with a perfect record of six wins from six in the tournament so far. Comparisons with the glorious squad of four years ago are inevitable but the three-time Olympian stresses that this group has its own identity:  

“We can’t get carried away. It’s a totally new group to four years ago and with that is a totally new ethos and approach. Every game we’ve come out with our business hats on to just get it done.”

Crista Cullen and Hollie Webb celebrate at the Olympics

“New Zealand play a very attacking style, which is great because it opens it up and gives gaps to attack into.” says Cullen. “We’ve shown a lot of resilience defensively – typically British defending – and we need to bring that out in the next game.”

Of course New Zealand are a side not to be taken lightly. Currently ranked fourth in the world they will be full of confidence after a convincing win over their old foes Australia in the quarter final. Under the guidance of Head Coach and former Australian international Mark Hager, New Zealand’s Black Sticks have enjoyed arguably the most successful period in their history. In 2011, the team claimed their first ever Hockey Champions Trophy medal when they took third place at the competition in Amsterdam, and a year later narrowly missed out on an Olympic medal when they were beaten by Danny Kerry’s team in the fight for bronze. In 2015 they collected a silver medal at the Argentina Hockey World League Final, losing the final against the host nation in Rosario. Their squad contains five players in the group with over 200 caps (Gemma Flynn, Charlotte Harrison, Stacey Michelsen, Kayla Whitelock and Anita McLaren) whilst McLaren is rapidly closing in on the 100 international goals mark.

With the last meeting between the two sides a roller coaster 4-3 win for Great Britain at the Hockey Champions Trophy, this one promises to be an edge of the seat thriller.

Tune in tonight at 9pm on BBC Sport to watch Great Britain take on New Zealand for a place in the Olympic Final.

GB vs NZ SF of OG