A point is what Great Britain needed and three points is what they got. This was job done for the defending women’s Olympic champions, who only needed a draw to guarantee progress from Pool A but left the Oi Hockey Stadium with a comfortable 2-0 win against Ireland to set up a quarter-final on Monday against Spain, the runners-up in Pool B.
Ireland needed a win to make it into the knockout stages in their first appearance at the Olympics but that never seemed likely and straight from pushback Team GB were on the offensive.
Still, the first quarter at least was a familiar story for Britain at these Games: camped out inside their opponents’ 23-metre line, prodding, probing and creating plenty of pressure without anything tangible to show for it. Nought from three on penalty corners told its own story.
This frustration has been a hallmark of Team GB’s tournament in a mixed bag of results. Victories against South Africa and India, both 4-1, set against narrow losses to Germany and the Netherlands, the tournament favourites, and those defeats featured a frustrating narrative of pressure and penalty corners not converted into tangible gains.
Any fears this match could go the same way were calmed early in the second quarter. At the sixth time of asking, a penalty corner bore fruit. Susannah Townsend knocked home the rebound from close in after Ireland’s goalkeeper, Ayeisha McFerran, saved Hannah Martin’s sweep from the edge of the circle.
Britain made the game safe early in the second half. Martin swept home her second goal of the Games after good work down the right side by Ellie Rayer. Ireland appealed, to no avail, and from there it was just a case of game management for Team GB.
Britain tightened their grip, hogging possession, masterful in defence and denying Ireland a single penalty corner. The Olympic debutants even ditched McFerran in favour of an extra outfield player in a final attempt to force their way back into the match, but to no avail.
Both Britain’s teams can now prepare themselves for the knockout stages. The men face India on Sunday while the women play Spain on Monday as the faintest glimmer of gold hoves into view.
It is hard not to think the imperious Dutch will stand in the way of any ultimate dreams of glory, but for now Britain’s title defence lives on. They can’t really repeat that remarkable Rio gold medal, can they?