Black Sticks into semis

Tuesday 7 August 2012

The New Zealand womens hockey team battled bravely to secure a 0-0 draw against Germany today and so book a place in the Olympic semi-finals. The Black Sticks pool was very tight and going into the final round Australia, Argentina and New Zealand all entertained strong hopes of progressing. New Zealand coach Mark Hager was reluctant to spell out too clearly that a draw would be enough, because he wanted his team to play positively. That resulted in some (restrospectively) funny moments near the end, when his players were striving desperately for a winning goal. They were out there going, Goal, goal and Im on the sideline going, Hold the ball, hold the ball, said Hager. New Zealand were up against it against a German side ranked No 3 in the world to New Zealands sixth. The Germans beat New Zealand 5-1 in an Olympic warm-up match last month. The Germans had 19 shots at goal to New Zealands 11 and earned six penalty corners to New Zealands four. It required some brilliant goalkeeping by Bianca Russell to keep the Black Sticks scoresheet clean. In addition, fortune smiled on the New Zealanders. A German goal was disallowed after a video replay and the frustrated Germans simply could not get the ball in the back of the net. We didnt really play well in the second half, said Hager. The forwards need to treasure the ball. We had limited opportunities out there, so they had to push it a bit. He paid tribute to Russells work. She made one fantastic save in the first half and was very solid throughout. A key to holding the opposition scoreless is to have a goalie in top form, and we certainly had that. Black Sticks captain Kayla Sharland was delighted to hear confirmation that the draw was enough to secure a semi-final berth. We knew they were going to come at us aggressively. It was tight out there, she said. But were really excited about getting through and once youre in the semi-finals, youre really in with a chance. Hager said the importance of the Black Sticks first match, the 1-0 win over Australia, could not be over-emphasised. That set us up. You dont want to begin a tournament trailing, he said.
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