Hockey: Black Sticks lose semi-final match

By David Leggat

Blair Hilton scored the first goal for New Zealand. File photo / Brett Phibbs
Blair Hilton scored the first goal for New Zealand. File photo / Brett Phibbs

The New Zealand mens hockey team must play off for third place, and a pass into the World Cup next year, after losing their semifinal 3-2 to Belgium at the World League in Rotterdam today.

With the top three teams at the tournament gaining automatic entry into the World Cup, to be played in The Hague next June, sixth-ranked New Zealand had to beat the world No 9 Belgians.

Instead they face a must-win scenario against No 3 the Netherlands on Sunday night.

Should they lose that, New Zealand will rely on winning the Oceania Cup tournament in Stratford in late October to progress.

Belgium led 2-1 at halftime, through goals by Thomas Briel, cleverly flicking a ball played into the circle over Black Sticks goalkeeper Devon Manchester, and a shot from a penalty corner by Tom Boon, struck high into the New Zealand net.

The Black Sticks had got on the board through Blair Hilton's gentle deflection off a hard Alex Shaw drive.

Belgium increased their lead through Boon early in the second half, swivelling away from Shaw to strike the ball past Manchester.

Andy Hayward's low drive from a penalty corner closed the gap again, and had Belgian goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch not managed to turn another Hayward attempt past the post three minutes from the end, the game would have been heading for a penalty shootout.

New Zealand subbed Manchester off to play an extra outfielder for the last five minutes in a desperate attempt to equalise.

"We did really well in the final 15 minutes and almost created a goal right there at the end," New Zealand coach Colin Batch said.

"It's frustrating because we have a feeling that we did enough to get the job done."

World No 2 Australia edged out the Netherlands 4-3 in the other semifinal and will face Belgium in the final.

In other games, Spain beat Ireland 1-0 and India defeated France 6-2, leaving Spain and India to play off for places five and six, with France and Ireland to battle for seventh and eighth.

- NZ Herald

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