New Zealand 2
A young New Zealand men's hockey side faced a severe opening examination at the Champions Trophy today, and for the first half the match in Melbourne stuck to the script.
But, down 3-0 at the break to world No 1 Germany, the Black Sticks fought back and fell just short of grabbing an unlikely draw.
New Zealand have never beaten Germany at the Champions Trophy and, after a quick glance at their respective results at the London Olympics, it would have been brave to bet on that record being broken today.
Germany won gold in London while the Black Sticks settled for a disappointing ninth - however, with Germany also selecting a youthful squad, the gap between the sides was even smaller than the 3-2 scoreline suggested.
Some typical German efficiency saw three chances converted into three goals but, based on the way the rest of the game played out, New Zealand could make an argument for being the better side.
It was an encouraging start for new coach Colin Batch, and he hoped amendments made at halftime would carry into tomorrow night's match against India.
"It shows that we can learn and develop throughout a game," he said. "It could've easily blown out, given the young and inexperienced side we've got. But we played well, I think, and generated quite a few chances.
"It puts us in a good position and gives us self-belief for the rest of the tournament."
The format of the tournament - different from last year's edition in which New Zealand hosted and finished fourth - meant a loss was hardly cause for consternation. Even if the Black Sticks finish outside of the top two in the four-strong group they will still have a chance at playing for medals, though it will probably mean encountering heavyweights Australia or the Netherlands sooner rather than later.
"Every game counts towards who you play in the other pool," Batch said. "Naturally, we're really competitive and we want to win every game we play. But it's about continuing to improve, so from one half to the next today we saw quite a deal of improvement, and that's what we want to see."
After Germany began the match by striking in the first minute, two defensive lapses saw their advantage grow. New Zealand fought back through Matt L'Huillier's penalty corner goal before Nick Wilson finished a neat one-two with five minutes left to give his side hope.
It wasn't to be but, for a side starting two debutantes and with one-cap Hamish McGregor in goal, the Black Sticks took heart, if not a result, from the game.
Germany 3 (Matania 1, Ruehr 21, Korn 23)
New Zealand 2 (L'Huilier 56, Wilson 65)
- APNZBy Kris Shannon Email Kris