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Rio Olympics - Holcombe star makes history for Brazil while seven GB starters secure big win

Tuesday was a memorable night for Rochester-based Holcombe Hockey Club as the club's stars lit up the Olympic clash between GB and hosts Brazil in Rio.

Stephane Vehrle-Smith in action for Holcombe in 2014
Stephane Vehrle-Smith in action for Holcombe in 2014

The club boasted seven starters in the GB XI, including Chatham-born Ashley Jackson, a former Sutton Valence School pupil, while club legend Stephane Vehrle-Smith, who helped them in their quest to progress through the divisions in the England Hockey League, was in the Brazil side.

And it was Vehrle-Smith - who first appeared for the Medway side as a 15-year-old 12 years ago - who sent the partisan crowd wild in Deodoro with a perfectly-executed drag flick from a penalty corner in just the third minute which beat clubmate George Pinner in the GB goal to open the scoring.

It was the first goal Brazil had ever scored in Olympic competition and left GB trailing against the group's minnows in a game which they were expected to win handsomely after collecting just a point from their opening two games against Belgium and New Zealand.

However the scores were level nine minutes in when Adam Dixon slammed home a rebound after a shot from skipper and Holcombe ace Barry Middleton had been saved by the impressive keeper Rodrigo Faustino.

Middleton turned the game on its head three minutes later with a run and fierce back-handed shot which beat the keeper at his near post.

Jackson drew a fine save from Faustino in the second corner and a host of penalty corner chances went begging for GB before Jackson, his country's record goalscorer, produced a trademark finish from another set-piece to make it 3-1 at the break.

Holcs' Dan Fox was denied by a superb Faustino save after the break and then denied Jackson again but the GB dominance eventually led to Harry Martin firing in from an angle after a goalmouth scramble.

Another Jackson flick was superbly denied by the keeper before the final quarter began with GB just three goals ahead.

Holcs ace Sam Ward made it five with 13 minutes remaining with a low finish and with 10 minutes to go GB coach Bobby Crutchley withdrew Pinner - largely a spectator - in favour of 11 outfield players with Fox as a kicking-back as GB sought to improve their goal difference which may prove crucial in their quest to qualify from the group.

Within seconds Fox drove forward and fizzed a superb ball into the D which was turned in by Middleton to make it 6-1.

Mark Gleghorne converted a penalty corner to make it seven and Middleton was denied a hat-trick by the shin of a defender on the line, though it allowed Jackson to dispatch No8 from the penalty spot.

Jackson glided forward from half-way before cracking a superb cross-goal pass which was glanced in by Ward to complete the scoring in the closing stages.

Of Vehrle-Smith's opening goal, Fox told the Euro Hockey League website he had mixed emotions, saying: "Obviously, I would have liked for it to have not been against us but I am delighted for him.

“He has put so much work with his time in the Brazilian squad, travelling backward and forward from Europe. In some ways, Brazil have done fantastically to get here, finishing top four in the Pan-Am Games. He really deserves it.”

Skipper Middleton reflected: "It was good fun getting some goals out there and I think it shows what we are capable of as a team. I feel like we are definitely growing into this tournament and that is a good sign. Today was important to get our confidence up and that’s what we did.

“Playing Brazil in Rio was great. You want an atmosphere to really get you going. It was good fun. We all want to be playing on the biggest stage in front of the biggest crowds. Even though we were on the receiving end of the crowd, it was great to play in and it really helped us raise our own game.”

Iain Lewers and Nick Catlin of Holcombe were also in action for GB, who face Australia in a potentially crucial next game at 12.30am on Wednesday night/Thursday morning.

Middleton added: “Australia tomorrow will be a completely different game. We will have to defend a lot more but we did a lot of things right against Brazil; we need to keep that up.

“The key is to get a good rest in and then we go again against Australia which is probably a must-win game for us now.”

Earlier, GB's women will seek a third straight win when they face Argentina at 5.30pm BST.

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