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Beijing Olympics 2008

News from Beijing

11 August 2008

Hockey men win Olympic opener

Ali McGregor

A Loughborough hockey quintet were part of a British team to beat rivals Pakistan 4-2 in their opening match of the Olympic Games.

Jon Bleby, Barry Middleton, Glenn Kirkham, Alistair Wilson and goalkeeper Ali McGregor were part of the starting squad as Great Britain kicked off their tournament in style.

In a stark contrast to yesterday’s women’s match, the British men’s side were more clinical in their finishing after an excellent first half display which put them 3-0 up at half time with goals from James Tindall with a powerful strike, Rob Moore with a reverse stick hit from the top of the circle and Ashley Jackson with a drag flick from a penalty corner. Pakistan forced their way back into the game during the second half and there were some nervy moments as they pulled the score back to 3-2, but Matt Daly was on hand to finish off a rebounded penalty corner with eight minutes left to take the wind out of Pakistan’s sails.

Tindall’s second minute powerful strike from the right of the circle got Team GB off to the best possible start, but seconds later the post helped to deny an immediate reply from Pakistan as Great Britain survived a penalty corner in which Syed Abbas Bilgrami could only find the woodwork to mark an explosive opening to the match.

Britain earned their first penalty corner in the 11th minute but Richard Mantell’s attempt was cleared to Matt Daly who could only find the side netting. It wasn’t long however before the Brits doubled their lead with a stunning reverse stick hit from Moore who had his back to goal at the top of the circle.

Loughborough’s McGregor was on hand to deny a reply in the 22nd minute with a great stop low to his right from a penalty corner and seven minutes later, Salman Akbar in the Pakistan goal could do nothing to stop a drag flick from Jackson after the ball had been injected by graduate Kirkham from a penalty corner.

Britain survived an onslaught of four penalty corners between the 30th and 32nd minutes, the last of which saw McGregor on form with a good save to keep it 3-0 at the break.

Pakistan came out determined to make amends in the second half and it wasn’t long before they earned yet another penalty corner, but again, McGregor kept them at bay with a dive to the right.

Great Britain had a 47th minute penalty corner saved, but it was Pakistan who were to get the next goal as four minutes later, former Loughborough player Wilson lost the ball and a counter attack ended with a tap-in at the left post for Shakeel Abbasi. Captain Ben Hawes was yellow carded shortly after and Britain, down to 10 men, found themselves under a sustained period of pressure from Pakistan which was rewarded just after Hawes returned to the pitch in the 59th minute. Ben Marsden was unable to clear the danger in the circle and Muhammad Waqas netted to reduce their deficit to just one goal.

The next goal was to be crucial and it was Britain who found the back of the net to regain their two goal cushion with nine minutes left on the clock when Daly cleared up a rebound from a penalty corner which had been well saved by Akbar.

Pakistan pushed until the end, but Britain’s defence held firm to record a vital 4-2 victory in their opening match.

“We’re obviously delighted with this win on our opening match,” said head coach Jason Lee, a Loughborough graduate. “There is no doubt that is has given us a boost to our confidence. There is less pressure on us now in our two Games against Holland and Australia so we can just go for it.

"It was a brilliant start. I had hardly settled into my seat in my coaching box (in the stand) when we scored and I got told off for shouting too much," said the former GB international. “We scored early in the Olympic qualifying tournament final against India (in Chile in April) and today felt a bit like that. It certainly helped ease the nerves because we were nervous, to say the least."

Goalkeeper McGregor, who foiled Pakistan’s hopes of a comeback, believes strong team spirit was key to the team’s success in their opening match.

“To go 1-0 up early was a great boost, and then I managed to pull off a couple of saves to keep things going,” he said. “It was especially important to get a good start against a team like Pakistan, who are so strong going forward. Our Olympic history against Pakistan is not that good, but we pulled together as a team . We knew where their threat would come from and worked hard to negate that. At 3-2 there was a bit of a wobble but we try and lead from the back and as a team we have a pretty strong mental edge. We stayed strong to the end. We’re a pretty close knit team and we work hard for each other.”

World No.3 and current European Champions The Netherlands are next up for Britain, a game which will take place at 1400 BST on Wednesday.

Loughborough University - Beijing 2008

Beijing facts

There are 55 Loughborough athletes in action at the Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Did you know?

Former Olympic Champion Sebastian Coe is a Loughborough graduate.

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