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Five years ago a forest fire in the hills above Rio de Janeiro spread ash across the pitch before Team GB and Spain met at the same stage of the 2016 Games. The only thing on fire at Oi Hockey Stadium on a sultry Tokyo evening was the goalkeeping of Britain’s Maddie Hinch, whose extraordinary shutout in the shootout propelled the reigning women’s Olympic champions into a semi-final against the Netherlands.
Twice in normal time Britain went ahead, through Hannah Martin and Grace Balsdon, and twice they allowed Spain back into the match. But when the hooter sounded on a 2-2 draw you could almost hear Britain’s head coach, Mark Hager, slapping his hands with glee at the prospect of Hinch deciding this quarter-final. And decide it she did.
In a hockey shootout players have eight seconds to beat the keeper from the 23m line. Hinch saved all five of Spain’s attempts, one a retake after the video referee intervened when Britain were already celebrating. She smothered, she stretched, she swept every shot aside. Nothing would pass beyond GB’s extraordinary 5ft 6in guardian and her heavy suit of armour.
Martin and Sarah Jones scored for Britain and Hinch’s feats helped secure a last-four encounter with the tournament favourites, a team eager for revenge for the 2016 final they felt was stolen from them by Hinch’s shootout heroics. Seven of GB’s Rio squad are in Tokyo.
“I don’t feel invincible, definitely not. I just enjoy them,” said Hinch. “As a keeper I think you shouldn’t fear [shootouts], it’s just a chance for you to do your part. I didn’t fear it today, I felt ready.”
Hinch may be modest but Hager is under no illusions about the value of his goalkeeper to Britain’s Olympic cause. “Maddie Hinch, No 1,” he said. “She’s one of the best goalkeepers in the world. You saw five years ago how good she is and composed in that situation.
“It always helps when your keeper can save three in a row, it gives you a chance and gives the girls confidence.”
The first quarter had been bitty, but two minutes into the second period the game came to life. Martin beat two defenders and fired through the keeper’s legs for her fourth goal of the Games. Spain galvanised themselves and soon equalised from their first penalty corner, a clever routine stopped deep and turned in on the deflection by Belén Iglesias Marcos.
A familiar failing of Team GB against better opposition at these Games has been profligacy at penalty corners, but there was no wastefulness when Balsdon swept high into the net to restore their lead. Yet again Spain hit back when Berta Bonastre turned a bobbling ball past Hinch.
That was the last time GB’s keeper would be beaten. Now come the Netherlands on Wednesday. “It’s just an advantage to us that 2016 is still in the back of the minds of the Dutch,” said Hinch. “I’m sure they’ll say it’s not. But it probably still is a bit.”