Netherlands defeats China for field hockey gold
BEIJING (AP) The pressure on the Netherlands women's field hockey team couldn't have been greater heading into the Olympic gold medal match.
The reigning world champions carried the No. 1 ranking into the final. On top of that, their opponent would be China, the upstart hosts who had played stellar defense throughout the games.
Netherlands lived up to its billing and defeated China 2-0 to win the gold.
"We knew everybody saw us as the favorites," Netherlands captain Minke Booij said. "I think in the team, we just had something like 'we are good, we know we're good, we are confident in ourselves, we are confident in everything we can do.' We have to focus on what we are good at, and that's what we did."
The Dutch men and women earned silver medals at the 2004 games in Athens, but hadn't won gold since 1984.
The silver is China's first medal in women's field hockey. The sixth-ranked Chinese held their own, but lacked the skill to match the Dutch.
"Although there may be some regret for not getting the gold, we have already made tremendous breakthroughs through four years of effort," Chinese goalkeeper Zhang Yimeng said. "It is a historical moment for Chinese hockey."
Argentina defeated Germany 3-1 to win the bronze medal and repeat its 2004 finish.
The championship match was scoreless at halftime, and featured several spectacular saves by Zhang.
Netherlands finally scored in the 51st minute on a penalty corner. Naomi van As knocked in a rebound off Zhang's stick to give her team a 1-0 lead.
China failed to convert on a penalty corner less than two minutes later.
Netherlands scored the clincher when Lidewij Welten knocked in an errant clearance attempt by China's Li Shuang in the 62nd minute.
Booij said it was tough to score because China's defense created opportunities for its offense and forced the normally aggressive Dutch into a defensive mode for large parts of the game.
"They have a lot of speed in their game, and they are very fit and very strong," Booij said. "With the turnovers, if we are attacking and losing the ball, the speed in their game is making their offense attack."
Though the match was played on Chinese soil, about a third of the crowd was wearing Dutch orange.
"I think there were so many Dutch spectators in the building," Booij said. "When we saw that many orange when we arrived - that's a great feeling."
The Germans won gold in 2004, but struggled defensively in the medal round.
Rosario Luchetti scored the first goal for Argentina in the 11th minute on a deflected shot that went through several German defenders.
Argentina's Carla Rebecchi stopped a pass from going over the end line, rolled the ball back and scored in the 22nd minute to make it 2-0.
Anke Kuehn's goal in the 45th minute cut Argentina's lead to 2-1, but Argentina's Noel Barrionuevo scored the clincher off a penalty corner in the 63rd minute.
In early action, South Africa defeated New Zealand 4-1 for 11th place, and Australia defeated Great Britain 2-0 for fifth.