First, the facts. Great Britain, the reigning Olympic women’s hockey champions, began their title defence with a 2-1 defeat to Germany in Pool A. The statistics will show that a scuffed penalty from Viktoria Huse cancelled out Sarah Jones’s close-range opener before Charlotte Stapenhorst scored the winner in the third quarter. But that’s not the full story of this absorbing encounter at a sweltering Oi Hockey Stadium.
Great Britain had a host of chances to get at least a draw from this match, and the penalty corner tally of 11 to one in their favour tells its own story. So many times they had their opponents pinned back in desperate defence and Germany’s goalkeeper Julia Sonntag was inspired. Afterwards GB’s captain, Hollie Pearne-Webb, knew it was one that got away. “It was a really dominant performance. On balance of play, the points should have been ours,” she said. But GB were also wasteful, and Pearne-Webb admitted as much. “We didn’t make sure it was three points.”
Then there was also the issue of the video referral system, and in particular the award of Germany’s penalty stroke that felt decisive. The decision may well have been the correct one, and GB did not complain, but it is also true that the clunky VAR process of Premier League football has nothing on some of the bewildering delays and confused decision-making processes on display by these officials.
Both teams took the knee before the start and Britain were 1-0 ahead and comfortably in control when the turning point came. Amid a goalmouth scramble to clear the ball, GB were penalised and the on-field umpire awarded Germany a penalty stroke.
Then, the farce began. First, a long delay as the video umpire considered the TV replays while the players sweltered. Eventually, the on-field umpire was told the attacking player touched the ball with a foot and GB should be awarded a free-hit. No, said the on-field umpire; please look at it again. Another long delay followed, before the TV official agreed the on-field umpire had been right all along. Huse converted, and the pendulum had swung.
In the third quarter GB kept the pressure on, but Germany grew in confidence and the winner came when they cleared a goalmouth scramble in their own circle and sent play upfield where Stapenhorst fired home from Pia Maertens’ pass.
There were more overly-long video referrals and more penalty corners for Britain as the match wore on but Germany were resolute in their defence. A final penalty corner chance with two minutes left was pushed frustratingly wide, not even testing the Germans. It was head-in-hands time for GB’s head coach Mark Hager, and that rather summed things up.