Monday, July 30, 2012

Men's hockey: South Korea beat NZ 2-0

 First match of the 2012 Olympic competition promised to be a close contest between two teams following each other in the FIH world rankings (6th for Korea and 7th for New Zealand) and with similar international experience (average of 155 international Caps for Korea and 150 for New Zealand).
     As expected, the match started with an intense battle for possession in midfield, neither team leaving an inch to the other. The Black Sticks tried to circulate the ball around the Koreans, tightly regrouped in defense and only sporadically pushing up with long balls for a high forward. First opportunity for goal was for Simon   Child in the 6th minute on a cross from the right and Korean goalkeeper Lee Myung Ho slightly out of position, but the ball bounced over his stick just when he was volleying it.
      Kyle Pontifex in goal for New Zealand was called into action shortly after when a turn-over in midfield was promptly turned into a goal opportunity by Lee Nam Yong. Although not rich in goal chances, the intense tactical battle was fascinating and the near capacity crowd of the Riverbank Arena watched in awe the display of individual and collective skills, wondering who would be the first to outplay the opponent. The break came after a green card to Nicholas Haig: Kang Moon Kyu played the free hit quickly and found You Hyo Sik for an unstoppable deflection in goal.
      This seemed to take some wind out of the Black Sticks’ sails and the Koreans collectively moved higher on the field, leaving even less space for manoeuver in midfield. They pushed in the final minutes of the period and a hard cross from the left eluded everybody in the circle to find You Hyo Sik left unmarked on the far post for his second goal of the day and a comfortable two-goal lead for Korea going into the half-time break.
     Despite the support of the crowd, the New Zealanders seemed to have lost their initial enthusiasm and the Koreans had the upper hand at the beginning of second period. Kyle Pontifex needed to be sharp to fend off a few Koreans attempts from close range. There always seemed to be an extra Korean attacker coming from nowhere and the Black Sticks had to work hard to avoid conceding additional goals. Both teams had a chance on penalty-corner with ten minutes left to play, but the attempts were handled well by the defenders.
     New Zealand had another flurry of chances with five minutes left on the clock, but Lee Myung Ho somehow managed to dive left and right to protect the Korean goal. He was again well positioned a few minutes later to deflect a penalty-corner shot by Shea Mcaleese, and Korea could calmly weather the final minutes to end up with the win after a solid and impressive performance.

(Yan Huckendubler)