Hockey : Black Sticks fume at failure to fire
Bitter disappointment at failing to produce their best when it really mattered will be tempered by satisfaction at strides taken by the New Zealand Black Sticks hockey side at the World League finals in New Delhi.
New Zealand were well beaten, 7-2, by world No3 the Netherlands in the final yesterday, paying a heavy price for a poor first half.
The flipside is they were not expected to reach the final and are sure to get a rise in the world rankings, up from their seventh place going into the event.
The Black Sticks were forced into penalty shootouts in the quarter-final against Argentina and semifinal against England and won them both. Goalkeeper Devon Manchester was outstanding and penalty-takers displayed cool heads and confidence. New Zealand played their best hockey against No4 side England.
But the Dutch, historically a difficult proposition for New Zealand, were too strong and assertive.
However, assistant coach Bryce Collins doesn’t subscribe to the idea that the final was one game too far for the Black Sticks.
“At the end of the day the Dutch played very well and were certainly better than us on the day,” he said yesterday.
“The disappointing thing is we really didn’t throw any punches until we were three or four down.
“We were very passive in the first half and that’s a learning we can take out of it going forward.”
Coach Colin Batch talked of the pride in the squad at winning the silver medal – this was the first time since winning Olympic gold in Montreal in 1976 that New Zealand have made a tier one final – and the development of the group as the tournament progressed.
The top five nations were in New Delhi and New Zealand are likely to climb at least one spot, to No6, through their results.
“It’s very difficult to stay within the top four nations in the world and we’ve done that here, so that’s something we’re looking to make a regular thing,” Batch said.
Midfielder Steve Edwards scored both New Zealand goals in the final but the squad took the manner of the defeat hard, Collins said.
“We were bitterly disappointed and took a little bit of time to sink in, but in a day or two we’ll reflect back and be relatively pleased with where we got to.
“I firmly believe we’re making progress. We are competing with top tier nations, but we’ve got to do that consistently. Collectively we are heading in the right direction.”
It’s a busy year for the Black Sticks, who next have the Champions Challenge tournament in Malaysia in late April, before the World Cup in The Hague, followed by the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in July.