By Annika Breidthardt
LONDON (Reuters) - Argentina are two matches away from fulfilling their skipper's dream of Olympic gold and from holding all three major international hockey titles, after fighting their way to the top of their group with a goalless draw against Australia.
In their semifinal on Wednesday, Argentina will meet Britain, who qualified despite losing 2-1 to the Netherlands, thanks to a 1-0 Japanese victory over China.
Titleholders the Netherlands, who finished top of their group without dropping a point, will play against New Zealand, a side in their first Olympic semifinal.
"Losing to the United States (earlier this week) made us stronger," said Argentine skipper Luciana Aymar, a record seven-time world player of the year who has won every major title but Olympic gold.
Aymar, whose team are world champions and champions trophy titleholders, plans to retire after London.
"Now it's step by step, I'm only thinking of the semifinal."
Australia was dominant in the first 15 minutes but for all their possession they found no way to break through Argentina's defence or force serious chances on goal.
Argentina, who needed only a draw, launched a few fast counter-attacks, mainly involving Aymar, but could not net the ball.
Still, they controlled the second half as Australia hardly threatened, despite substituting their goalkeeper for an extra attacker with just under five minutes remaining.
"We are now going to play against a team who have really improved their level over the last years and have the home crowd on their side," said Argentine coach Carlos Retegui said of hosts Britain.
They meet on Wednesday, with Britain having advanced despite losing to the Netherlands 2-1 in a performance that a furious British coach Danny Kerry said was "too edgy, too passive and too reactive".
"I'm pretty disappointed to be blunt. I've spoken to the girls. I expect much better than that," Kerry said.
Britain, on the defence throughout the match, got the Riverside Arena crowd roaring in the 29th minute with Crista Cullen's fourth tournament goal, a low penalty corner flick.
Moments later, British goalkeeper Elizabeth Storry saved a penalty corner by Maartje Paumen. The Dutch skipper, who scored 11 times in Beijing, has yet to score in London.
The Dutch stepped it up after the interval. Britain's keeper Storry managed to stop Lammers breaking in alone but she could only look on as Naomi van As tapped a penalty corner combination over the line.
With 18 minutes to go, the Netherlands took the final 2-1 lead with a far-post tip-in by Kitty van Male following a defensive error by British skipper Kate Walsh.
OUTSIDER KIWIS ADVANCE
Earlier in the day New Zealand, pre-tournament outsiders ranked sixth in the world, booked their first-ever place in the Olympic semifinals by knocking out Athens 2004 champions Germany in a goalless draw.
New Zealand, only needing a draw, started off well and hit the post, then focused mostly on fighting back against Germany, who kept the ball mainly in the Kiwis' half but could not score after having two goals disallowed.
At the final whistle, New Zealand's women cheered and high-fived, while most of the German girls cried over their worst Olympic result since Sydney 2000.
"The attitude of the team is thrilling to see, such a talented bunch of girls," New Zealand goalkeeper Bianca Russell told reporters. "I think half of Auckland is in London at the moment."
(Editing by Mark Meadows and Jason Neely)