Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Hockey: Black Sticks face daunting task against Holland

New Zealand's Charlotte Harrison saw the bright side in their loss to Germany. Photo / NZPA file
New Zealand's Charlotte Harrison saw the bright side in their loss to Germany. Photo / NZPA file

It might be a case of putting on a brave face, but the Black Sticks are claiming plenty of positives out of today's comprehensive 3-1 defeat to Germany.

They were also upbeat about their quarter-final, despite drawing the daunting Dutch.

"It will be an awesome challenge and hopefully we rise to it," said striker Charlotte Harrison. "We haven't beaten them for a while and they are the benchmark."

"They are the world's top team and it is a chance to find out whether we are good enough," said coach Mark Hager. "We need to play to our potential to at least give ourselves a chance."

The Black Sticks face the Oranje Machine after finishing last in Pool B, although it was by some distance the stronger of the two groups. The Dutch have been the best team all week; solid across the park, a great blend of youth and experience and, as one Argentine journalist put it, every penalty corner they receive is "half a goal", such is their efficiency from the edge of the circle.

One glimmer of hope is that the match will be played at 12.30pm local time (4.30am NZT), and the Dutch melted a little in the afternoon heat in their group game against England.

There will also be less expectation on the Black Sticks, which takes off some pressure, but it will take a massive effort across the park to get close to Holland.

Today's match was virtually over after 20 minutes. The disciplined Germans were never going to let slip a 3-0 halftime lead, despite a massive lift in effort and execution from the Black Sticks in the second stanza.

It all came down to the first 20 minutes when they conceded three goals, two from penalty corners and all with a soft tinge about them.

"It was strange," Harrison said. "We didn't feel like we were playing that badly. It wasn't like we were terrible but somehow we were three behind."

The Black Sticks appeared flat from the start. Compared to the vocal Germans, the Kiwis were quiet and couldn't get any flow. There was some elements of bad luck, and more strange calls from Chinese umpire Lin Mao, who is the least competent at the tournament.

Nevertheless, the Black Sticks were always under pressure in possession, struggling to find space and time from the suffocating German defence.

"They are always hard to play against," said Harrison. "They are physical and always well positioned and maybe we didn't adjust."

As they have been at various times during this tournament, they were also plagued by poor passing, often of the 'hit and hope' variety.

"Turnovers are killing us but we all know that," said Anita Punt, who scored in the second half. "Sometimes it is just not clicking out there."

After a stern halftime address from Hager, New Zealand lifted the tempo, accuracy and talk in the second half and their effort in maintaining pressure on the German defenders was particularly impressive.

"We still didn't create that much but the effort was there and our pressing was excellent," said Hager "We are still getting isolated at the back and making basic errors of judgement. But at least we responded."

New Zealand also put together some of their best passing movements of their tournament and were unlucky not to create more than a couple of half-chances, although it was always going to be difficult as Germany often had the entire team in the defensive third and are ruthlessly efficient defenders.

In the day's earlier matches, Great Britain beat China 3-1 and the Netherlands disposed of Japan 4-1, who became the first team since Korea in 2005 to lose all of their first-round matches at a Champions Trophy.

There was high drama in the day's final game as Argentina were less than two minutes away from losing to Korea (and a unwanted match up with Great Britain) before Luciana Aymar conjured a late equaliser.

New Zealand 1 (A. Punt) Germany 3 (N. Hasselmann 2, L. Hahn). HT: 0-3.

* Herald on Sunday writer Michael Burgess travelled to Argentina with assistance from Hockey NZ.


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