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Rio Olympics 2016: Contrasting starts for NZ hockey teams

By David Leggat

Black Sticks Nick Woods competes for the ball in the teams round robin match against Great Britain. Photo / AP
Black Sticks Nick Woods competes for the ball in the teams round robin match against Great Britain. Photo / AP

Contrasting fortunes for New Zealand's hockey teams at the Rio Olympics.

The women, ranked fourth in the world, made an emphatic statement with their first up 4-1 win over eighth-ranked Korea today. Purely on rankings, they would expect to be semifinalists, as they were in London four years ago.

They face Germany early tomorrow and should be good enough to win a minimum three of their remaining four pool games, the exception being the world's best, the Netherlands.

Goals from Kirsten Pearce, Petrea Webster, Charlotte Harrison and Gemma Flynn ensured a comfortable margin over the Koreans, with goalkeeper Sally Rutherford a strong performer.

Defender Stacey Michelsen said her side's ability to move the ball around the field in hot conditions was a key point of difference.

"Our linking through the layers all across the turf was great today, we really played as a team which was fantastic.

"It's always very important to be able to keep moving the ball around in the heat, and we certainly did that well and it led to goals," she said.

The men got on the points table with a 2-2 draw against Britain, having lost their opener 2-1 to world No 1 Australia.

A Kane Russell shot from a penalty corner and a clever backhand drive from teenager Hayden Phillips had New Zealand 2-1 up before veteran Barry Middleton squared things up just before halftime for Britain.

New Zealand, ranked eighth, had to take something from the game but they still sit well off the pace, being set by Belgium, with six points, while Spain and Australia have three each.

"After our last game we needed to step up in the way we defended the circle and connected in the midfield and up front, I think we achieved that," coach Colin Batch said.

"We didn't get the result we were after but (it was) certainly a big step up in our performance. The key now is to recover and have some fun as well, not get too intense and make sure we put in another good performance against Spain."

One point they will be conscious of is the changed format for this Games tournament.

The top four teams from each pool advance into quarter-finals. The catch is if the Black Sticks finish, say fourth, they're likely to face the formidable Dutch, ranked second, in the last eight.

Which is why the next three games - Spain (ranked 11th), Brazil (30th) and Belgium (6th) - shape as very close to must-wins. The higher they get on the ladder, potentially the easier the quarter-final.

The women's Black Sticks, by contrast, have started as they mean to go on.

- NZ Herald

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