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Great Britain 2-0 New Zealand
by Ben Saunders
at the Twickenham Stoop
CHRIS GRIFFITHS played a starring role in front of the biggest crowd to have watched hockey in Britain since London 2012, as he scored one and set up Alan Forsyth’s second today to put the home side through to the FIH Pro League Grand Final in the Netherlands next week.
With Olympic champions Argentina having lost 4-1 to world champions Belgium in Antwerp earlier in the day, Britain needed to win, and duly did, to join Australia, Belgium and European champions the Netherlands next weekend at the Wagener stadium in Amstelveen, just outside Amsterdam.
GB keeper Harry Gibson was in action within the first 20 seconds, when he made a stunning point-blank save from New Zealand forward Stephen Jenness.
And the game wasn’t five minutes old when Britain struck with a double whammy. Griffiths struck fiercely with a reverse-stick effort into the net from the shoulder of the shooting circle.
The bonus for GB came when New Zealand went to the video umpire, saying the East Grinstead forward had illegally hit the ball with the back of his stick.
However, the video umpire ruled in favour of Griffiths and, in one of the great rulings that football with its flawed VAR could learn from, the Black Sticks lost the ability to challenge a call for the rest of the game.
Britain were pouring on the pressure in front of a delightfully friendly but fervent atmosphere.
Phil Roper was at the centre of everything — he had earlier made a surging baseline run but failed to find a stick in the middle.
He then just failed to convert a wonderful run from Rhys Smith, who deftly lifted the ball over a Kiwi stick before finding Roper, who then surged into the circle, only to shoot wide before seeing yet another effort saved by Richard Joyce in the New Zealand goal.
Midway through an uneventful second quarter, Zach Wallace just failed to get on the end of Forsyth’s pass before hitting the underside of the crossbar, when everyone else inside the ground thought he had scored.
The game had notably tensed up in the third quarter. Britain had lost some of their joie de vivre and were fortunate that the Black Sticks, winless and rooted at the bottom of the table, were so profligate with their penalty corners.
But Forsyth eased nerves with eight minutes remaining in the match, tapping home after a great run from Griffiths into the circle.
Great Britain will play Australia in Friday’s semi-final, with the final to be played on Sunday.
The Netherlands take on Belgium in the other semi-final, also played on Friday.
Elsehwere, Lily Owsley inspired GB’s women to a 3-1 win over New Zealand with two goals and an assist in the second part of yesterday’s double-header.
She set up Hannah Martin’s 23rd-minute opener, after a trademark surging run into the circle, before smashing in the second herself from the edge of the D four minutes into the second half.
She then struck from close range after a smart penalty-corner routine eight minutes later as GB women ended a disappointing Pro League season on a high.
Olivia Merry pulled one back for the Black Sticks in the 44th minute.
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