Hockey: Black Sticks win Olympic opener

By Dylan Cleaver

The New Zealand Black Sticks elebrate their winning goal against Australia during their hockey pool match at the London Olympics. Source / Brett Phibbs
The New Zealand Black Sticks elebrate their winning goal against Australia during their hockey pool match at the London Olympics. Source / Brett Phibbs

New Zealand could be forgiven for wanting to celebrate long and hard. Wins at the Olympics against Australia don't come around every day - or any day in the case of the Black Sticks, who had played four, lost four until tonight's shock 1-0 victory.

Such is the Olympic schedule however, that their celebration will be a bit of match analysis, the odd flea in their ear from coach Mark Hager and an immediate switch of focus to Tuesday's opponents, South Africa.

"We've got to drop this game and focus on South Africa because it's a quick tournament," speedster Anita Punt said. "This game's gone. We'll take a few quick points that we can work on and start planning for South Africa because they use a similar sort of press to Australia.

"We'll be going home and watching clips on South Africa. That has to be our focus."

Still, they can take some satisfaction from driving their transtasman neighbours to distraction, scoring early off a Cathryn Finlayson scrambled effort, which settled any nerves they might have brought into the match.

"I think it did," Punt said. "But leading into this tournament we'd get the lead and we'd drop off and let them back in. It was a really good effort in defence.

"We haven't held a 1-0 lead for a long time. It was really hot out there, it was hard."

Punt's blinding pace caused Australia's defence issues, but they were not able to capitalise on this often enough, much to the frustration of both coach and player.

"You could probably hear the coaches' yelling at us," Punt said. "One of our strengths is our speed. We need to round the outside more and look for options. We need to look at that against South Africa."

Punt is expecting another hard fight against South Africa, saying when New Zealand does win against them, it tends to be by the barest of margins.

New Zealand have been handed a brutal pool. They must win their next match before they face the No 2-ranked team, Argentina, on Friday morning (NZT). The sixth-ranked New Zealanders then have a date with the 10th-ranked US, before rounding out pool play with another tough game against Germany (No 3), who beat them 5-1 in a pre-Olympic international.

- NZ Herald

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