High fives all round as new hockey format delights in Nanjing
Quick, compact and fun to watch, the hockey5s in Nanjing provided plenty of excitement as both men’s and women’s tournaments were decided by penalty thrillers.
Played on a pitch that is half the size of the one used in 11-a-side, hockey5s made its Olympic debut in Nanjing.
A total of 20 teams (10 men’s and 10 women’s) took part in the tournament, which kicked off on 17 August with a group phase comprising two pools of five teams for each gender. The four best teams in each pool then progressed to the quarter-finals, with the remaining two teams entering a play-off for 9th and 10th place.
China’s women woo local hearts
In the gold medal showdown on 26 August, which took place amidst an electric atmosphere at the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games Sports Park Hockey Field, the momentum swung wildly between the two teams, before China finally clinched the title in a dramatic penalty shoot-out.
The host team looked to be running away with the match early on, at one point opening up a 4-0 gap thanks to goals from Lijia Zhang, Tu and a double from their top scorer Zhang Jinrong.
However, the Dutch then showed why they had been pre-tournament favourites, producing a sensational eight-minute comeback to lead 5-4, before the Chinese levelled through Zhang Xindan five minutes from the end of normal time to send the match into penalties.
In the shoot-out Carmen Wijsman missed the second penalty for the Netherlands before China’s Zhang Jinrong, who scored twice during normal time, calmly converted her chance to secure a 3-2 win and send the home crowd wild.
“All week the games could have gone either way and tonight was no different,” said China’s captain Tu Yidan.
“We’ve worked really hard together to earn this gold medal, we’ve given everything to have it. We were really calm [before the penalty shoot-out] and we were ready because we’ve spent so much time practising penalties in training.”
And she signalled that gold in Nanjing was not the end of their ambitions. “We’ve been training for the Youth Olympic Games for a long time. The next step for us is to produce a proper national team,” added Tu. “We already live together, eat together, play hockey together and we know we have a great future together.”
Dutch captain Elin Van Erk admitted that her team’s poor start had cost them. “We knew China was really strong and focused, so it didn’t surprise us to see them attacking right from the beginning,” she said. “On the other hand it wasn’t good to be down 4-0, that was actually really sad, but we decided to fight and get back in the game.”
The senior teams of both countries regularly vie for honours in the World Cup, Champions Trophy and at the Olympic Games. And it is clear, on the evidence of their displays in Nanjing, that their lent development programmes for junior players.
Bronze went to Argentina, who beat Japan 5-2 in the third-place play-off.
Joker Weyer scores audacious winner for Australia
Australian Corey Weyer scored with an impressive reverse flick to score the decisive penalty, after Vikram Sandhu, the last Canadian to shoot, missed his effort.
“I tried not to think about it too much,” explained Weyer. “When I was standing in line at halfway with the boys, I was cracking jokes to lighten the mood a bit and make it just like any other day, any other game.”
“I was watching myself walk up on the big screen, trying to see myself and I made some faces and just had a bit of fun with it. I tried not to make myself too nervous. I kept it calm and kept it simple,” he added.
Australian team captain Tim Howard said, “We knew it would be a 36-minute match like any other and we just had to hold it together. Hockey5s is a game where anything can happen. We had to keep our cool.”
Despite their defeat, Canadian team captain Brandon Pereira was quick to focus on the positives for his team. “It’s experience that counts,” he said. “We came close but we’re not quite there yet, so the experience we’ve gained is everything right now.”
The “Maple Leafs” had to endure penalty shoot-outs in both their quarter and semi-finals to get to the last stage, as well as losing group matches against Australia (5-2) and Spain (6-3).
Australia also came through a couple of hairy moments early on in the tournament, losing two tight group matches by a single goal each to South Africa and Spain.
In the final, Australia took the lead through Alec Rasmussen, who scored from 25 metres out. Canada equalised thanks to Sandhu, before the Aussies regained the lead with a goal from Max Hendry in the 21st minute.
Rasmussen then increased the advantage, but Amrit Sidhu scored two more goals for Canada in the last three minutes to send the game into yet another dramatic penalty shoot-out.
Spain took the bronze medal, beating South Africa 7-4 in the third-place match.