In one of the great games of this Olympiad, China reached their first ever final, gaining revenge for defeat in the Athens semi-final as they beat Germany 3-2 despite trailing on two occasions in front of a partisan crowd.
Natascha Keller opened the scoring inside four minutes at the second attempt, following a goal-mouth scramble as both teams began in nervous fashion. China progressively gained the upper hand with German keeper Kristina Reynolds in top form.
She could not keep out Lihua Gao, though, who delicately chipped over Reynolds after being left unmarked in the centre of the circle from a break out of defence, leaving the sides level at the break.
Janine Beermann restores the advantage, pushing in Maike Stoeckel’s cross but Yibo Ma responded quickly from a penalty corner – incredibly, the Chinese side’s first of the tournament after 20 efforts.
The hosts dominated the play for the final 20 minutes, drawing multiple saves from Reynolds before the Chinese star-player Baorong Fu dribbled through the circle. Her cross bounced up into the path of Yudiao Zhao to bat in the decider. Germany had a late corner but could not convert, sending the local crowd into wild celebrations.
The second semi-final proved a more one-sided affair, with the Netherlands triumphing Argentina 5-2. Maartje Paumen scored a hat-trick to break the record for the most goals at a single Olympic tournament, with 11 to her name with Marilyn Agliotti and the graceful Ellen Hoog netting one apiece.
In a devastating first-half, Paumen was on the mark twice as the Dutch rammed home their territorial advantage. Agliotti scrambled another in after Hoog’s brilliant run to effectively kill the game by half-time.
Hoog, though, scored an absolute peach to make it 5-1, burning the defence from the left touch-line and then on the back-line before adroitly rounding the keeper and slamming into the goal.
Gulla tapped in with a minute to go but the Dutch were deserving winners and look to be the favourites.
Their ferocious strike-rate at penalty-corners (35%) could prove key and was all that separated the sides in the group stage while China will hope
Baorong Fu can inspire them. They have already guaranteed the country’s first-ever hockey medal. Can they make it gold?