Black Sticks miss world league final
The New Zealand men’s hockey team was left ruing a couple of slipups in pool play at the World League Semifinal in Johannesburg after it failed to qualify for the competition finale later this year.
With only the top four at the tournament booking their spot at the World League Final in India in December, the Black Sticks fell into the playoffs for fifth to eighth in South Africa following a 2-0 loss to Belgium in the quarterfinals yesterday.
The eighth-ranked Kiwi side will go in as healthy favourites against world No 19 Egypt today and must finish fifth to lock in their berth at next year’s World Cup, although a sixth-place finish will also likely be enough.
New Zealand faced a stiff task against a slick Belgium outfit, the world’s fifth-ranked side, but it was a match they could have avoided.
The Black Sticks were held to a 3-3 draw in an opening match they were expected to win against 17thranked France and, after victory over Japan and a narrow loss to Australia, that left them needing a win against Spain to set up a potentially more winnable quarterfinal with ninth-ranked Ireland.
That victory over the world No 10 Spanish looked on the cards as the Kiwi team came from 2-0 down to take a 3-2 lead with five minutes to play. But it was an advantage they did not hold for long as Spain quickly levelled scores again before finding a winner in the final minute
The result meant a tough quarterfinal against Belgium, a match where New Zealand were immediately on the back foot as an ill-advised overhead pass across the defensive circle allowed Sebastien Dockier to open the scoring in the third minute.
Just two minutes later it was 2-0 to Belgium, another loss pass out of defence allowing Tom Boon the freedom to carry into the circle and slam a powerful reverse stick shot between the legs of goalkeeper Richard Joyce.
Although they settled and did not concede for the remaining 55 minutes, the statistics showed the match was largely dominated by the European side.
‘‘We had a tough start conceding two early goals, but we responded pretty well, especially on defence,’’ Kiwi coach Darren Smith said.
The semifinals pit Belgium against Australia, with Spain squaring off against Germany.