Hockey: Germany beat England – on penalties

England 4 Germany 4 (Germany win penalty shoot-out 2-0): Title dreams dashed as women's team's first European final for 22 years is hit by shoot-out jinx

Boom

It could have been Boom but it turned out bust, an outcome seasoned English sports fans should have predicted the moment the game went to a penalty shoot-out here in this small Belgian town.

Inevitably, given the long history of failure against Germany in situations of sporting sudden death, England came up just short when it mattered most in the final of the European Championship, their quest for a first major hockey title in 22 years sadly unfulfilled.

But no one could say they had not given their all, with Susie Gilbert touching in a goal to level the scores at 4-4 with just four minutes to play. But in the shoot-out Germany's keeper, Kim Platten, kept out four of England's attempts to win it 2-0.

Afterwards there was disappointment but also talk of a young team with much more to come. "I am gutted," said 18-year-old forward Lily Owsley, who has only just received her A-level results. "It is almost worse that we were so close to winning gold. But it's a home Europeans in two years and we'll win gold then."

When defender Kate Walsh, now 33, won bronze in her first European Championship as a 19-year-old, little did she expect that medal in Cologne would be the first in a string of six European bronzes. "We have so many bronze medals," she said after yesterday's defeat. "You feel quite happy when you win a bronze medal because you have won your last game. Now you feel like you have lost gold rather than won silver and you feel down.

"But if you look at this squad that only came together in April and look at how young it is and what it has achieved, it is fantastic. I look at the other teams and think we have way more to give and far farther to go. That is just so exciting."

Both teams seemed to be feeling the nerves in a first half yesterday that produced seven goals. Those nerves were understandable in England's case, as it was their first European final since they won this title in 1991.

The omens were good for England, though: that championship was also in Belgium, Germany were also their final opponents and, as in Boom, they defeated the Dutch in a shoot-out in the semi-finals.

However, a 22-year winless streak takes some ending, especially with the scars stretching back into the last century for some of the squad. The only championship where Walsh missed out on a medal was Barcelona in 2003. A 17-year-old team-mate from the 2009 bronze-medal winning team, Helen Richardson, also remains in the side. She has four European bronze medals.

Richardson and Walsh both chipped in with goals yesterday, as did another Great Britain 2012 Olympic bronze medallist, Georgie Twigg.

But Walsh and Twigg also saw their shoot-out attempts saved – in hockey these are one-on-ones with the goalkeeper, with eight seconds to score from the 25-yard line. At least this time England players have a silver medal to polish.

Walsh and Richardson have hung on, despite the disappointments, in a game which tests the nerves and body to the limits. Richardson has had the worse luck with injuries, including a serious ankle injury early in her career and a back operation earlier this year which saw her in doubt for this championship. The relentless pounding on artificial surfaces is tough on backs and knees and there is also the potential for serious impact injuries from ball and stick.

Walsh knows the dangers all too well, having been hit in the jaw by a stick playing for Great Britain in London. She returned to the field six days later with a titanium plate in her jaw to steer her side to that bronze medal.

Back then, after the 2-1 semi-final loss to world champions Argentina, Walsh was seen consoling a tearful Richardson after their gold-medal dream faded. Walsh has had her tearful moments too – notably when she missed a penalty stroke in a semi-final shoot-out against the Dutch in the 2010 World Cup in Argentina.

Walsh, who needed a nerve block to kill the pain of that fractured jaw back in London, returned to her nerveless best in Boom, throwing herself into tackles with no less enthusiasm than she did in Germany 14 years ago. Richardson was at her combative best for the semi-final defeat of the Olympic champions, Holland.

Helping to heal the scars has been the influx of post-Olympic new blood, undamaged by those years of near-misses, to refresh the squad. Foremost among these is Owsley, who had a hand in England's equaliser yesterday, nudging Ashleigh Ball's shot into the path of Gilbert.

Then the skies opened for the shoot-out. England goalkeeper Maddie Hinch – hero of Thursday's win over the Dutch – produced two good saves, but it wasn't enough as Walsh, Alex Danson, Laura Unsworth and Twigg all failed to score.

There was, however, some consolation for Hinch – she was named keeper of the tournament.

England Hinch; Unsworth, Macleod, Twigg, Richardson, Townsend, Walsh, Quek, Ansley, Webb, Owsley.

Germany Platten; Bachmann, Hasselmann, Hoffman, Haase, Kruger, Bachmann, Plass, Hauke, Stockel, Muller-Wieland, Muller.

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