Commonwealth Games: Mistakes cost Black Sticks

By Kris Shannon in Glasgow

New Zealand's Steve Edwards in action during the men's hockey semifinal between New Zealand and India. Photo / Greg Bowker
New Zealand's Steve Edwards in action during the men's hockey semifinal between New Zealand and India. Photo / Greg Bowker

"Whether it was the pressure, the pitch, whatever - we just choked."

That was the blunt assessment of Phil Burrows after the Black Sticks blew a two-goal semifinal lead and, with it, a shot at the Commonwealth Games gold medal.

The New Zealand men had done everything right in Glasgow. They marched through the minnows in their pool with minimal fuss, they scored a late winner to edge England and, crucially, they topped their pool to avoid Australia in the semifinals.

Then it all came undone. The seemingly more comfortable route to the final - a showdown with India at the National Hockey Centre overnight (NZT) - ended in disaster as the Black Sticks squandered a golden opportunity and, in the words of one of their most experienced, choked.

"It's just disappointment, really," said an emotionally spent Burrows. "We're pretty upset. We had a good start, 2-0 up, then let them back into it.

"The second half, I don't know. We just made too many errors - dribbling mistakes, we missed trapping the ball."

The result is a rematch with England in the game that neither team wants to play but that both teams will be desperate to win and salvage something from the campaign - the dreaded bronze medal match.

"The next couple of hours will be pretty shit but we just have to get up," Burrows said.

"We have an important game to win a bronze medal, so we just have to get up for that."

It's a long way from the ambitions New Zealand took to these Games. Both the men and the women believed only Australia stood between them and the gold medal but both were undone before a step before setting that date with the old foe.

The hockey programme will again head home from a major tournament without gold hanging around their necks, leaving that 1976 Olympic win a shining beacon being further lost in the gloom.

"We were always coming to try and make the final," Burrows said.

"We wanted to have both the New Zealand teams in the final. It's unfortunate that none of us are. We could have taken that chance today but we didn't. It's getting a bit frustrating."

That chance was indeed there, with either better defending at 2-0 or better finishing at 2-1 needed to kill off an unwavering Indian challenge.

While captain Dean Couzins shared his senior partner's frustration at throwing away the lead earned through Simon Child and Nick Haig, he disagreed on the description of the defeat.

"I wouldn't describe it as a choke," he said. "It's not the way I feel. You're two goals up with a long way to go in the game. We've been on the flipside of that - when you're two goals down and chasing games and come back.

"It's incredibly frustrating. I'm not sure that there is the right type of words for print to describe it. It's tough. It's going to hurt like heck - not just tonight or tomorrow, even if we go on and win the bronze, which I'm very determined to do.

"It's going to stay with someone who's been to four Games or someone who's been to one Games. It's going to stay with us for a long time - it's going to hurt."

- NZ Herald

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