By BRENDON EGAN
Star Black Sticks striker Simon Child does not want to think about the possibility of New Zealand not featuring at next year's men's Hockey World Cup.
The Black Sticks have a proud record of having qualified for seven of the 11 World Cup tournaments since 1971. If they want to progress to an eighth, though, they will have to win the World Cup qualifier tournament, which begins on Saturday in Invercargill.
Child said missing out on next year's World Cup would be a disaster for the national side.
"If we fail to qualify, we may fall off the hockey map. It's crucial that we qualify."
Eighth-ranked New Zealand will start the tournament as firm favourites and Child said there was a positive mood in the camp, three days out from their opening match against Wales on Saturday.
"We're very confident. We're obviously the highest-ranked team. We've had a pretty good preparation and been in camp for a while ... Everyone is confident and raring to go."
China, who are ranked 13th in the world, and Malaysia (16th) shape as the Black Sticks' toughest rivals at the qualifying tournament, but Child noted that three European sides – Austria, Wales and Scotland – would have to be treated with the respect they deserved.
"We have to be wary in all the games," Child said.
"It's a cut-throat tournament and if you slip up, your chances are gone just like that."
Child was especially looking forward to the match against China, after the Chinese effectively knocked the Black Sticks out of last year's Beijing Olympics by holding them to a surprise draw in group play.
"That was a disappointing game for us ...This will be our revenge, I think," Child said.
New Zealand have named their strongest possible side for the winner-takes-all tournament, with all their European-based players back in the country.
Dunedin-raised teenager Hugo Inglis is the only uncapped player in the squad and Child, who teamed up with the youngster for New Zealand at the Junior World Cup, earlier this year, rated him highly.
"He's a very talented guy. He's got some fantastic skills and has a good eye in front of goal. He's going to be an exciting player for the Black Sticks in the future."
Child has racked up 106 caps for New Zealand since his debut in 2005 as a 16-year-old schoolboy and despite his tender age is now regarded as one of the more experienced members in the side.
He said he was eager to have a strong tournament and will be looking to carry over the red-hot goalscoring form he has shown for the New Zealand Juniors and his NHL team Auckland this year.