BIRMINGHAM, England (AP)A week after the Lionesses became the pride of England for winning soccer’s Women’s European Championship, their compatriots in field hockey are hoping for their own historic moment in Birmingham.
England has claimed a women’s hockey medal in the six previous Commonwealth Games but gold has proven elusive. A thrilling victory over New Zealand in the semifinals on Friday has given the English another chance to end the drought.
They will face four-time champion Australia in Sunday’s final. The hosts have lost both previous times they played Australia in the title match.
England’s success is a bonus for Commonwealth officials who have placed an emphasis on highlighting women’s sport, with a priority on three major team finals to be staged on Sunday.
Branded Super Sunday by organizers, gold medals from 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 defeated Germany 2-1 at Wembley last Sunday in a soccer final that drew a crowd of 87,192, the largest attendance for a European Championship decider for either sex.
Ticket sales for women’s sports in Birmingham have also been strong.
Organizers reported more than 160,000 tickets have been sold for the cricket at Edgbaston Stadium alone, making it the biggest drawing women’s tournament in history.
England is a live medal chance in all three events and former netball captain Ama Agbeze is hopeful the run of success will draw more girls and women to sport.
A member of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Board, Agbeze led England to a gold medal in Australia four years ago and is delighted by the prominence given to women’s sport throughout the 12-day competition.
”The Women’s Euro was an incredible competition and the Commonwealth Games is just piggybacking off that success and atmosphere and just continuing on with it,” she said.
”It was great foresight of the organizers of the Games to put women’s Super Sunday on with all those sports and it was great the women’s football team won, because they have basically played into the whole narrative of increasing the profile of women’s sports.”
England’s hockey team has done its part – the hosts edged defending champion New Zealand 2-0 in a penalty shootout. Both teams were held goalless in regular play but Hannah Martin scored England’s second goal in the shootout from four attempts.
In the other semifinal, Australia beat India 3-0 in the shootout after the teams finished regulation play 1-1.
Rebecca Greiner scored in the 10th minute to give Australia the lead but against the flow in the 49th minute, India equalized when Vandana Katariya deflected a shot into the net from close range – the first goal the Australians had conceded in the tournament
The shootout began in controversy with Australia’s Rosie Malone taking the first shot and missing. But Malone was given a second attempt because the eight-second countdown clock on the scoreboard wasn’t working.
Malone converted her second attempt and her teammates Kaitlin Nobbs and Amy Lawton also scored to send Australia 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 in. But all our other girls got our shootouts in so it’s not like that one shootout was the be all and end all.”
England’s netballers will play Australia in a semifinal on Saturday, and the nation’s cricketers face India for a spot in the decider. Australia plays New Zealand in the other women’s cricket semifinal, also on Saturday.
In other highlights on Friday, India enjoyed success in wrestling when Deepak Punia, Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik all claimed gold medals.
Malik, who won the women’s 62-kilogram class, said the support provided by the strong Indian community who live in Birmingham helped her succeed.
She edged Canadian Ana Godinez Gonzalez in the final.
”It was amazing to have a crowd presence of this kind,” she said. ”At the Tokyo Olympics, there weren’t many Indians . so for a wrestler, it’s amazing to have that presence.
”And then to be trailing at one point and to come back, the crowd played a huge part in getting me to where I wanted to be, which was right on top of the podium.”
George Miller became the oldest Commonwealth Games gold medalist when, at the age of 75, he acted as the director for visually impaired Scottish bowler Melanie Inness. His grandchildren watched from the stands as Miller assisted the para-mixed bowls combination to a 16-9 victory over Wales in the final.
”Bowls is quite easy for older people but any sport, (be it) walking, football, rugby, you name it, get out there (and) exercise. Play games,” he said. ”Competing is brilliant, whatever age you are.”
The overall gold medal race tightened when leaders Australia added a number of minor medals on Day 8 but failed to win a gold.
Australia has 50 golds and 140 medals in total, while England now sits just three gold medals behind Australia (47 gold, 131 overall) with three competition days remaining.
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