Giles saves the Olympic dream

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The Independent Online

They saved their best for when they needed it most. Having left qualification for the Olympics down to a one-off game, Great Britain's hockey players finally produced a fluent performance to beat Argentina 3-1 and book their tickets to Sydney.

Britain had arrived for the qualifying tournament here convinced that they would have a comfortable passage through to the semi-finals, and thus the Olympics, but their stuttering form meant that everything was riding on a play-off game.

Yesterday Britain played the best hockey of the tournament to beat Argentina, a side who have improved with every outing. They suffered a dismal3-1 defeat by Switzerland in their opening game, but then went on to draw 4-4 with Malaysia and they finished their pool games with a 4-3victory against Pakistan.

With the advantage of an early goal, Danny Hall powering in a fine reverse-stick shot from the edge of the circle after receiving a precision pass from Ben Sharpe, Britain never looked back, going from strength to strength.

Two penalty corner goals from Calum Giles put them into a three-goal lead six minutes into the second half and although they conceded far too many penalty corners it was not until the 59th minute that Argentina pierced the British defence, Maximo Pellegrino driving the ball past Simon Mason, who had earlier made a number of important saves.

The elated British squad attended the after-match press conference en bloc where Sharpe said: "We know we have not performed well in earlier games. We prepared well for this match and trusted each other. We still have a lot to learn and improve on but we have achieved our objective."

Wales' David Hacker, the only non-Englishman in the squad, added: "It's a great relief. I was in despair after the New Zealand game [when Great Britain conceded an equaliser six seconds from time]. It seemed like the end after 15 years of training."

Malaysia secured the last certain qualifying spot with their 2-1 win over Japan, to join the semi-finalists, Pakistan, Spain, Korea and Poland.

Japan now play Argentina with a place for the winner in Sydney should the South African team not participate, which is the current position following the decision of their National Olympic Committee to exclude them from their Olympic contingent.The final here will be between Pakistan, who came from behind to beat Korea 2-1, and Spain, who beat Poland 4-1.

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