The New Zealand women’s hockey team lost their Olympic semi-final to The Netherlands today in heartbreaking circumstances.
The Black Sticks, playing a team that had not been beaten in the tournament, held the score to 2-2 at the end of fulltime. After there was no score in the subsequent 15-minute period of extra time, the New Zealanders then lost the penalty shootout 3-1.
The result means The Netherlands move into the final and New Zealand will now meet Argentina or Great Britain on Friday to decide who gets the bronze medal.
There was a wonderful atmosphere at the Riverbank Arena today.
A large proportion of the crowd was decked out in the orange of The Netherlands, but there was plenty of black, too, and some New Zealand flags.
The Dutch periodically chanted “Holland, Holland” loudly, but were always met with an equally vociferous “Kiwi, Kiwi”.
The Black Sticks got away to a good start when their captain, Kayla Sharland, slammed home a penalty corner after seven minutes. Sharland’s solidly-taken shot settled her team down and from then they were at least a match for the world’s No 1-ranked team.
The Dutch equalised after 31 minutes when their captain, Maartje Paumen, converted a penalty corner.
In the second half, New Zealand went ahead again with a goal by Krystal Forgesson, after a well-constructed attack down the left.
The Netherlands levelled again after 53 minutes with another Paumen penalty corner.
The rest of the second half was very tight, but Sharland almost put her team into the goal medal match when she hit another penalty corner solidly moments before the end. Dutch goalie Joyce Sombroek just got her foot to it.
New Zealand have improved markedly during the tournament, to the point where they had every right to be disappointed they hadn’t knocked over the mighty Dutch.
The Black Sticks had 13 shots at goal, including six penalty corners, and the Dutch 16, five of them penalty corners.
In the penalty shootout, the attacker had eight seconds to get the ball into the goal from the 23-metre line. This system has replaced the previous penalty shot method.
For New Zealand, Sharland, Gemma Flynn and Anita Punt had their shots saved by Sombroek, and Stacey Michelsen was successful. However, the Dutch were very efficient and imaginative and scored with three of their four attempts.
New Zealand coach Mark Hager said afterwards he was proud of his team and blamed himself for not giving his players enough practice at the penalty shootout situations. “I felt very twitchy going into the shootout,” he said.
However, goalie Bianca Russell, who had another fine game, said she had done plenty of work on that aspect. “We practise it at the end of every session,” she said. “I just think the Dutch have a little more composure in that situation.”
Russell said she was proud of her team-mates. “There’s nothing left in the tanks today. They left it all out there.”
She said the team would be able to pick themselves up for the bronze medal game.
“The show’s not over yet. Before the tournament we’d have been thrilled with any medal, so here we are playing for the bronze now. We have to keep it in perspective.
“It was disappointing to get so close to the really shiny ones, but going home with any jewellery is great.”
New Zealand’s final match is on Friday.