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No prizes for guessing the hero. Just as she has done on so many occasions during her illustrious international career – none more important than the 2016 Olympic final – goalkeeper Maddie Hinch stepped up at the most crucial point to keep England’s hopes of a first Commonwealth title alive.
This was the third successive occasion England have found themselves in a Commonwealth semi-final shootout against New Zealand with the chance to bid for gold awaiting the winner. That it came after a drab, largely forgettable, goalless match mattered for nothing to the capacity Birmingham crowd, who were elated with the result.
New Zealand did not score any of their four efforts in the shootout, Hinch expertly saving three and the other drifting wide. When Izzy Petter converted hers, it fell to Hannah Martin to put the finishing touches to the result – a task she took with aplomb as she stuck her effort past Tarryn Davey for a 2-0 shootout win.
“Those kinds of occasions are what keepers want to be a part of because it is incredible,” said Hinch. “To do it on a platform like that and with that home crowd, it really does give us that bit of extra belief.
“I had done some homework [for the shootout], but New Zealand have been off the scene for a while so I didn’t have as much as I hoped. That’s where I have to trust in my instinct, having done this a lot of times now. So I just tried to calm my nerves and stay in the moment.”
Eager to build on England’s triumph at last month’s European Women’s Football Championship, the Birmingham 2022 organisers have carefully constructed Sunday’s bumper women’s sport programme by putting the women’s hockey, cricket and netball finals in quick succession on the same afternoon. With England’s cricketers and netballers playing semi-finals on Saturday, the hockey players have now ensured part one is complete.
“I’m towards the back end of my career now so this is definitely something I’ve been so desperately wanting my whole career,” said Hinch of that elusive Commonwealth title. “I’ve been so close to it a couple of times, so I really hope it goes our way.
“Whatever the outcome, as long as we put out an incredible 60-minute performance, we can be really proud of what we’ve achieved already here.”
Shootout goalscorer Petter added: “We could make history. It’s really exciting. We want it so bad. When you have a crowd like that behind you it means so much more. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
English pre-match hopes were high on a glorious Friday evening in Birmingham after racking up 21 goals and conceding just one in four unbeaten pool stage matches. Up against the reigning champions, this would be their biggest test.
If the entire match was played at the frenetic intensity of the opening half-dozen minutes, it would have been an instant classic. Alas, it was not.
By that early stage, both sides had already been awarded two penalty corners apiece – Giselle Ansley unable to convert either of England’s – before decent chances at both ends of the pitch, with Holly Hunt smashing against the outside of the New Zealand post.
That, disappointingly, was the sum total of the action until half-time, by which point the two goal keepers had become mere spectators as 23 minutes of disjointed action passed by and New Zealand managed to ride out a yellow-card-enforced, 10-minute player deficit without the slightest alarm.
With the setting sun increasingly low in the sky, both sides went closer in a third quarter that ended with Hope Ralph receiving New Zealand’s second yellow card of the game to again reduce them to 10 players.
Still, England could find no way through, failing to convert four penalty corners in quick succession. Yet again, penalties would decide the winner. This time England would prevail to set up a final against Australia, winners of four out of six available Commonwealth titles.