New Zealand 2
The Black Sticks' faltering campaign continued with a sloppy defeat to China in searing heat today.
While the men's campaign has ended limply, the women will live to fight another day but they will need a super-charged improvement to win their quarter-final against either the Netherlands or Germany and progress to the medal rounds.
The Black Sticks were not hard done by this score, quite the opposite. They were in fact the beneficiaries of every 50-50 decision, with China having three goals disallowed and completely outplaying their more vaunted opposition.
New Zealand came into this match safe in the knowledge they could not be tipped out of the knockout rounds – well, not unless they contrived to lose by more than five goals.
Even though they flattered to deceive, that was never on the cards.
Even with the comfort zone of almost certain progress to the knockouts, it was hard to find anything to credit in New Zealand's opening quarter. After a bright start in which captain Stacey Michelsen put one chance over the bar, the Black Sticks fell apart.
Unable to string basic passing sequences together through the midfield, China were allowed to take charge and were desperately unlucky not to be leading at the quarter. They had two goals disallowed, one for the ball not leaving the circle before being drag-flicked into the net off a penalty corner, the other for a back-of-the-stick offence. Both were probably correct calls but there were millimetres in them.
Keeper Grace O'Hanlon was required to make three saves in the quarter, one an excellent one-on-one stop from close range.
Things turned around early in the second quarter after Liang Weiyu was yellow carded for dangerous play. New Zealand forced a penalty corner from which they worked a nice training-ground play that was finished – if you can call deflecting a ball that was already goal-bound from the stick of Kelsey Smith "finishing" – from a centimetre out by Ella Gunson.
China quickly worked back into the game with a strikingly similar penalty corner move, one that afforded them after a successful referral, finished by Liu Meng.
China took a deserved lead midway through the third quarter. The initial threat from a penalty corner was blocked but Chen Yang backtracked and brilliantly reversed a shot into the bottom corner.
Just minutes later O'Hanlon saved brilliantly from another corner to prevent a two-goal deficit.
China had further opportunities and there was always a danger they would pay for their profligacy. That they did with seconds remaining in the third quarter as Rose Keddell provided a nifty finish to some excellent Smith work on the right.
As the players started wilting in the extreme heat, play started to swing wildly from one end to the other. Liang atoned for her earlier yellow card by finding herself on the end of one such sweeping movement, calmly deflecting past O'Hanlon with a little more than six minutes remaining.
This time there was no comeback.
China's dominance was reflected in close to 60 per cent possession and forcing 13 penalty corners to three.
These are worrying times for New Zealand hockey.
After a bright start to the tournament they will enter the quarter-finals with a 2-3 win-loss record and an obvious lack of cohesion.
At least, however, they have a chance.
China 3 (Liu, Chen, Liang)
New Zealand 2 (Gunson, Keddell)