England’s success highlights Comm Games women’s sport

BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — A week after the Lionesses made England proud by winning the European Women’s Soccer Championship, their field hockey compatriots are hoping for their own historic moment in Birmingham.

England have won a medal in women’s hockey at the six previous Commonwealth Games, but gold has proved elusive. A thrilling victory 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 had lost both their previous matches against Australia in the title match.

England’s success is a bonus for Commonwealth officials, who have put an emphasis on highlighting women’s sport, with three major team finals to be held on Sunday.

Dubbed Super Sunday by the organisers, the gold medals for the women’s cricket, field hockey and netball finals will be decided on the penultimate day of competition.

It comes a week after England beat Germany 2-1 at Wembley last Sunday in a football final that attracted a crowd of 87,192, the biggest ever for a European Championship decider for either gender.

Ticket sales for women’s sport in Birmingham were also strong.

Organizers said more than 160,000 tickets had been sold for the cricket at Edgbaston Stadium alone, making it the biggest women’s tournament in history.

England have a live medal chance in all three events and former netball captain Ama Agbeze hopes the run of success will attract more girls and women to the 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 with the importance given to women’s sport during the 12-day competition.

“The Women’s Euros was an amazing competition and the Commonwealth Games just take that success and atmosphere and just build on it,” she said.

“It was great foresight of the Games organizers to launch a Women’s Super Sunday with all these sports and it was great that the women’s football team won because they basically played into the whole narrative of raising the profile of women’s sport.”

England’s hockey team did their part – the hosts beat defending champions New Zealand 2-0 on penalties. Both teams were held scoreless in regular play, but Hannah Martin scored England’s second goal on penalties from four tries.

In the other semi-final, Australia defeated India 3–0 on penalties after the teams finished regular play 1–1.

Rebecca Greiner scored in the 10th minute to give Australia the lead, but against the tide in the 49th minute India equalized when Vandana Kataria deflected a shot into the net from close range – the first goal the Aussies had conceded in the tournament

The shootings got off to a controversial start, with Australia’s Rosie Malone firing the first shot and missing. But Malone got a second try because the scoreboard’s eight-second countdown clock wasn’t working.

Malone scored her second try and her teammates Caitlin Nobbs and Amy Lawton also scored to send Australia to the final.

“When they called the re-recording, I thanked the universe for the second chance,” Malone said. “I knew the whole of India would hate me if I let him go. But all of our other girls were in our shootouts, so it’s not like this one shootout was the be all and end all.”

England’s netballers will play Australia in the semi-finals on Saturday, while the national cricketers face India for a place in the decider. Australia play New Zealand in the other women’s cricket semi-final, also on Saturday.

In other highlights on Friday, India enjoyed success in wrestling as Deepak Punia, Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik picked up gold medals.

Malik, who won the women’s 62kg category, said the support provided by the strong Indian community living in Birmingham helped her succeed.

In the final, she defeated Canadian Ana Godinez Gonzalez.

“It was amazing to have a crowd like that,” she said. “There weren’t many Indians at the Tokyo Olympics…so for a wrestler to have such a presence is amazing.

“And then to fall behind at one point and 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 took on the role of visually impaired Scottish bowling director Melanie Innes. His grandchildren watched from the stands as Miller assisted the para-mix combination to beat Wales 16-9 in the final.

“Bowls are pretty easy for older people, but any sport, (be it) walking, football, rugby, whatever, get out (and) play. Play games, he said. “Competing is brilliant, whatever age you are.”

The overall gold medal race tightened as leaders Australia added a couple of minor medals on Day 8 but failed to win gold.

Australia have a total of 50 golds and 140 medals, while England are now just three golds behind Australia (47 golds, 131 overall) with three days of competition remaining.

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