Relief for Smith as hosts book semi-final spot

Ashley Jackson celebrates scoring as Richard Smith punches the air in the background
Ashley Jackson celebrates scoring as Richard Smith punches the air in the background
Katie Spooner is aiming high for City of Portsmouth Ladies. Picture: Keith Woodland

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Richard Smith kept his dreams of an Olympic gold medal alive as he helped Team GB draw 1-1 with Spain to book a mouthwatering semi-final clash with Holland tomorrow.

GB only needed a point to progress, with Spain requiring victory to steal the second spot in group A, alongside Australia.

And with nerves shredded all around the Riverbank Arena it was the hosts who emerged on top by the most slender of margins.

Ashley Jackson’s first-half opener was cancelled out by Spain’s Pau Quemada after the break.

But a barrage of Spain pressure – and incessant claims for penalty corners – almost saw Smith’s dream cruelly snatched away.

However, the defender, from Widley, held strong to taste a slice of the euphoria sweeping the London 2012 Games. He said: ‘I’m just thankful we snuck in and got away with it.

‘I was really disappointed we let them back into it.

‘We let it be far too close for my liking.

‘We were positive going into it, thinking we could really roll them.

‘There were a couple of moments in the second half – maybe if the corner that hit the crossbar had gone in it would all have been different.’

Jackson shot GB ahead from a penalty corner in the first half.

It took some powerful defending from Smith to thwart Xavi Lleonart one-on-one, as Spain threatened a leveller.

But after the hosts hit the woodwork, it was a penalty corner awarded against the former City of Portsmouth man in the second half that sparked the late drama.

Quemada blasted the ball home, leading to a frantic finish with GB somehow escaping and allowing relieved home fans to erupt in the stadium on the final whistle.

Smith added: ‘The corner awarded against me was a bit harsh.

‘I felt I got myself in a good position and got my stick on it.

‘It was questionable if it was too high anyway and it felt pretty manufactured to lift the ball into me like that.

‘Maybe that was unlucky but we got lucky in the other moments at the end there.’

– DAVID BRAWN