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Team GB hockey girls within touching distance of London Olympics semi-finals

Ashleigh Ball scores the opening goal for Team GB's hockey women against Belgium on Thursday.

Ashleigh Ball scores the opening goal for Team GB's hockey women against Belgium on Thursday.

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Great Britain midfielder Ashleigh Ball described her debut Olympic goal as “phenomenal” as she put the side of King’s Lynn’s Danny Kerry within touching distance of the London 2012 hockey semi-finals.

The 26-year-old made a crucial breakthrough two minutes before half-time in the 3-0 victory over Belgium on Thursday night at the Riverbank Arena – just when it looked like her side were struggling.

Scotland’s Laura Bartlett added the second, also her first in the Games, just after the break and Crista Cullen powered home a late penalty corner to finish things off.

“It was phenomenal – the noise in the stadium was unbelievable,” said Slough midfielder Ball .

“I think the corner scorers are always going to have slightly more chances than everyone else but the strengths of this team are that we believe in each other and we have all shown why we are here and everyone is capable of scoring goals and winning goals. I think with our first-half performance we were lucky to go in 1-0 up but the second half we showed our character and belief and gave a better performance.”

The result means GB need only a point against China on Saturday afternoon to qualify for the semi-finals with a match to spare, but Ball said they were not looking any further than the weekend.

“Our mentality is a game at a time and I hope people can see we play each game like it is a final,” she added.

“There is no easy team in the Olympics. You can slip up if you think because you are ranked higher in the world you are going to beat them – that will get you in a bit of trouble.

“We concentrate on our own performances. China, we know, are Beijing silver medallists.

“They may not have had the most consistent performances but we won’t take that into account because if we don’t turn up and play with the belief we have for the other games we’ll get beaten.”

Head coach and former Pelicans star Kerry admitted GB’s performance was far from the level he expected but could not argue with a third successive win which keeps his side top of Pool A on goal difference from world number ones Holland, who GB face in their final group game.

“We were nowhere near where we needed to be in terms of execution and we could have done more with that but that is understandable given the nature of me tinkering things around a bit,” said Kerry, who welcomed captain Kate Walsh back into the squad in a non-playing role four days after she broke her jaw.

“We were missing Kate but that is two wins in the Olympic Games without one of the world’s best players and playing with 15 players.

“It’s not going to be brilliant hockey all the time, you just have to find a way to win.

“Beth Storry made a couple of good saves towards the end, which was credit to her in keeping her concentration.”

Walsh began easing her way back towards a return to action on Friday when she underwent a fitness test.

The 32-year-old defender has done some light running since returning to the Olympic village but coach Kerry will now start to step things to see whether she can be involved in the latter stages of the tournament.

“First is running pretty hard and looking at toleration of pain…if Kate comes through that we will put a stick in her hand and get her to slap the ball and tackle,” he said.

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