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NZ hockey's most heartbreaking loss

By David Leggat

It will take a long time for New Zealand to get over their shattering defeat against Germany at the Rio Olympic men's hockey tournament today.

Losses come in different shapes. Would New Zealand's quarter-final loss to the world No 3 Germans - winners of the last two Olympic golds, and who have fashioned a formidable record against New Zealand - have been easier to stomach had it been, say, a 5-0 beating?

Or even a routine 2-0 loss? Instead, it came about through the most dramatic imaginable circumstances which left the Black Sticks devastated.

The bare facts, eighth-ranked New Zealand 2-0 up until the last six minutes, only to lose 3-2, paint the outlines of a gripping conclusion which had to be seen to be believed.

New Zealand lost it at the death, the winner from Florian Fuchs coming with a blink over one second left in the match.

They had a highly winnable semifinal against world No 7 Argentina beckoning, their reward for a terrific display of heart and skill.

Instead it turned to porridge, Germany once more proving that they are indefatigable in fighting a losing cause and still in the frame for a third successful title.

New Zealand will agonise how it all went wrong. There were several points to consider.

Being down to 10 men, with Nick Wilson carded for the final two minutes, didn't help.

New Zealand had got where they were by playing skilful hockey.

A fine second quarter goal by striker Hugo Inglis, followed by a deftly deflected shot into the German net by Shea McAleese at a penalty corner with 11 minutes left, seemed to have had Germany on the mat.

But hockey, unlike, say rugby, can change in seconds. It can take half a minute to get a rugby ball moved from deep on defence to an attacking chance at the other end. In hockey make that six seconds.

So when Germany launched their final desperate attack, culminating in Florian Fuchs nudging the ball into New Zealand's net in the last second, they knew it was doable.

New Zealand, who had two chances to cut out that final cross from the right, had given away too much ball in the final quarter.

They were relying on holding out Germany where their success had come from playing hockey, occupying Germany with defensive work, rather than allowing them to launch wave upon wave of attacks at a goal defended stoutly by Black Sticks and their goalkeeper Devon Manchester, who made a string of brilliant saves.

Germany had surrendered their goalkeeper, playing 11 outfield players in those final minutes. New Zealand had to keep them conscious of conceding a third goal.

They did not play savvy hockey against an unrelenting and classy opponent when they needed to, which is not to say they hadn't put an immense effort in.

Twice German captain Moritz Furste scored from penalty corners, the second in the final minute to set up the barely credible conclusion.

''You can't take the four or five minutes at the end back but I'd certainly love to, if you could," New Zealand captain Simon Child said.

''We played so well for such a long part of the game and then just got down to the last four or five minutes and the Germans showed why they're the two-time Olympic champs. They make every second count."

Furste thought his time in a German shirt was up.

''That was the best New Zealand performance I've ever seen. They played their best hockey and the moment when it counted we were unbelievably lucky today and that's it," he said.

It was a stirring contest and best to remember New Zealand only got into the tournament through a South African withdrawal. They were never outclassed in the competition, and finished up playing to their world ranking.

''I'm really proud of the guys' efforts over the last two games. We probably didn't quite reach our peak. We were a little bit inconsistent still," Child said.

''But I can't fault the effort - there (were) a lot of tired guys out on that pitch and we took the Olympic champs right down to the wire and (were) probably one moment away from being in the semifinals ourselves."

New Zealand's women play Australia, worlds No 4 v 3, in their quarter-final early tomorrow.

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