Great Britain’s men survived a frantic last few minutes tonight to achieve the draw they required to reach a first Olympic semi-final since taking the gold medal in 1988. Amid chaotic scenes, four penalty corners were awarded against them in the last two minutes, two of which – to Spain’s fury - were then overturned after consultation between the umpires.
At the end of the game several Spanish players had to be ushered away from the officials. Their coach Dani Martin then launched into controlled but scathing criticism of the officials, accusing them of favouritism to the home side. “It can’t happen that an international official changes his decision twice just because he’s surrounded by opposing players,” he said. “If the president of the FIH (International Hockey Federation) doesn’t give a public explanation of what happened, there will be very serious consequences. We’re in a tournament where there are clear favourites and those countries are being favoured. ”
Britain insisted that the decisions had been changed not because of their protests but because the other umpire had said they were the wrong ones. Their coach Jason Lee said: “I believe strongly in the integrity and honour of the umpires. It’s difficult to make 50-50 decisions and not make somebody upset.”
With Australia having thrashed Pakistan 7-0 earlier to win the group and qualify for a semi-final against Germany, the match had effectively become a knockout tie to see who would attempt to dent the Netherlands’ 100 per cent record in the other tie.
In the end it turned on a series of penalty corners, two of which brought the goals. Britain scored first in the 32nd minute, Ashley Jackson sweeping the ball home for his fifth goal in as many games at this tournament.
Nerves set in among the home crowd after James Tindall’s flick came back off the bar and Spain found an equaliser with quarter of an hour to play. Britain appealed unsuccessfully to the video umpire about a penalty corner being given against them when the ball had clearly struck Richard Smith’s hands, and Pau Quemada drove a fierce shot low past James Fair.
For the edgy last quarter of the game Britain found it difficult knowing whether to stick or twist. But thanks to some dogged defence and the decisions going their way – rightly according to television replays – they clung on.
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