The New Zealand womens hockey team got the win they needed over the United States at the Riverbank Arena this evening - but they made hard work of it.
The Black Sticks utterly dominated play, but it required a goal by Clarissa Eshuis from a penalty corner in the 63rd minute to give them a 3-2 win.
A measure of New Zealands superiority is that they had 20 shots at goal to the Americans two. New Zealand had 13 shots at goal from open play and did not convert any. They had seven penalty corners and scored three times. The Americans, by comparison, manufactured only two shots and converted both.
New Zealand opened the scoring in the second minute with a goal by captain Kayla Sharland from a penalty corner, but the Americans equalised 13 minutes later when Katie ODonnell scored after an attack down the left.
Thereafter New Zealand peppered the American goal. It required great work by goalie Amy Swensen, plus some good fortune for the Americans, plus some poor New Zealand finishing for the score to remain close.
Gemma Flynn scored from a penalty corner in the 18th minute. There was a melee in front of goal, and Flynn finally scrambled the ball home.
The New Zealanders conceded a second goal, to Claire Laubach, just before halftime after a penalty corner and it was 2-2 at the break, which seemed remarkable given the disparity in scoring opportunities.
New Zealand strove mightily for a winning goal and had to wait nearly half an hour in the second spell before it came.
What made the New Zealand task more difficult was that they were sometimes down to 10 players. Stacey Michelsen received two yellow cards, neither for particularly heinous offences, it must be said.
Sharland said after the game she wondered when the winning goal would come.
We had so many chances, two with open goals, but couldnt put them away, she said.
I hope thats the bad one out of the way and that next time well put them in.
We werent clinical enough and lost our heads a bit. We werent composed and rushed things.
Black Sticks coach Mark Hager was mighty relieved afterwards. It wasnt good for a while. We should have had the game won by halftime. We should have scored five in that first half, he said.
Im just pleased we ended up with the three points [for the win].
Hockeys about creating chances, and we certainly did that.
New Zealands pool is very tight. With one match each remaining, New Zealand, Argentina, Australia and Germany still have a chance of finishing in the top two and making the semi-finals.
The Black Sticks last match is on Monday morning against the formidable German side. A win would get New Zealand through, and a draw might, too. However, it wont be easy the Germany gave New Zealand a 5-1 lesson in a warm-up match a couple of weeks ago.