BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — A week after the Lionesses became the pride of England for winning the European Women’s Soccer Championship, their field hockey compatriots are hoping for their own historic moment in Birmingham.
England have won a women’s hockey medal at the last six Commonwealth Games, but gold has proven elusive. A thrilling win over New Zealand in the semi-finals on Friday gave England another chance to end the drought.
They will face four-time champions Australia in Sunday’s final. The hosts have lost the previous two times they have faced Australia in the title match.
England’s success is a bonus for Commonwealth officials who have been emphasizing the spotlight on women’s sport, with priority given to three major team finals taking place on Sunday.
Labeled Super Sunday by the organizers, the gold medals of the women’s cricket, field hockey and netball finals will all be decided on the penultimate day of the competition.
It comes a week after England beat Germany 2-1 at Wembley last Sunday in a football final which drew 87,192 spectators, the highest attendance for a European Championship decider for both sexes.
Ticket sales for women’s sports in Birmingham were also strong.
Organizers reported that more than 160,000 tickets had been sold for cricket at Edgbaston Stadium alone, making it the biggest women’s drawing tournament in history.
England have a live medal chance in all three events and former netball captain Ama Agbeze hopes the string of success will attract more girls and women to the sport.
A member of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Council, Agbeze led England to a gold medal in Australia four years ago and is delighted with the focus on women’s sport throughout the 12-day competition .
“The Women’s Euro was an incredible competition and the Commonwealth Games just builds on that success and that atmosphere and just continues,” she said.
“It was a great forethought on the part of the Games organizers to have the Women’s Super Sunday with all these sports and it was great that the women’s football team won because they basically played in the whole narrative of raising the profile of women’s sports.”
The England hockey team did their part — the hosts beat defending champion New Zealand 2-0 in a penalty shootout. Both teams were held scoreless in regular play, but Hannah Martin scored England’s second goal in the shoot-out after four attempts.
In the other semi-final, Australia beat India 3-0 in a shootout after the teams ended regulation play 1-1.
Rebecca Greiner scored in the 10th minute to put Australia ahead but in the 49th minute India leveled when Vandana Katariya deflected a shot into the net from close range – the first goal that the Australians had conceded in the tournament.
The shootout began in contention with Australian Rosie Malone taking the first shot and missing. But Malone had a second attempt because the eight-second countdown on the scoreboard didn’t work.
Malone converted on her second attempt and teammates Kaitlin Nobbs and Amy Lawton also scored to send Australia through to the final.
“When they called the retake, I was thanking the universe for a second chance,” Malone said. “I knew all of India would hate me if I put it on. But all of our other girls got our shootings, so it’s not like this shooting was the end of everything.”
England’s netballers take on Australia in the semi-finals on Saturday, and the country’s cricketers will face India for a place in the deciding match. Australia face New Zealand in the other women’s cricket semi-final, also on Saturday.
In other highlights from Friday, India enjoyed wrestling success as Deepak Punia, Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik all won gold medals.
Malik, who won the women’s 62 kilogram category, said the support provided by the strong Indian community that lives in Birmingham has helped her succeed.
She edged Canadian Ana Godinez Gonzalez in the final.
“It was amazing to have a crowd like that,” she said. “At the Tokyo Olympics, there weren’t a lot of Indians… so for a wrestler, it’s amazing to have that presence.
“And then to be behind at one point and to come back, the crowd played a huge role in getting me where I wanted to be, which was right at the top of the podium.”
George Miller became the oldest Commonwealth Games gold medalist when, aged 75, he acted as manager to visually impaired Scottish bowler Melanie Inness. His grandchildren watched from the stands as Miller helped the para-mixed bowls combination to a 16-9 win over Wales in the final.
“Boules are easy enough for older people, but any sport, (be it) walking, football, rugby etc, get out (and) exercise. Play games,” he said. “Competition is great, whatever your age.”
The race for the overall gold medal tightened as leaders Australia added a number of minor medals on day eight but failed to win a gold medal .
Australia have 50 golds and 140 in total, while England are just three golds behind Australia (47 golds, 131 in total) with three days of competition remaining .
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