Sunday, July 29, 2012

Women's Hockey: New Zealand 1 Australia 0

The blue and pink Riverbank Arena was looking stunningly beautiful under the bright sunshine for the start of Olympic hockey. 
    The two teams from Oceania were first in action and the emotion of the players from New Zealand and Australia, who had trained for so long for this first match, was palpable during the anthems. 
    The Australians were nervous in the first minutes and conceded a penalty-corner on the first incursion of the New Zealanders in the circle, and Stacey Michelsen scored the first goal of the Olympic competition to give New Zealand an early lead.
    Australia quickly got rid of their early jitters and started to push back New Zealand on their heels. Megan Rivers thought that she had scored after the a superb run into the circle, but her powerful shot hit the post and nobody was on hand to use the rebound. 
    The game then settled in a balanced contest, between two teams very close in the FIH Rankings (6th for New Zealand, 7th for Australia) and knowing each other quite well.
    Anna Flanagan was close to tie the score for Australia with a powerful low shot on penalty-corner, but Black Sticks’ goalkeeper Bianca Russell saved it with an acrobatic dive. New Zealand successfully appealed to the video-umpire to avoid another penalty-corner late in the period, but were surprised in the last seconds by Anna Flanagan, who received a long ball behind the defense. Bianca Russell was once again up to the task and half-time was reached with the one-goal margin for New Zealand.
    The Black Sticks were once again faster off the starting blocks and Charlotte Harrison received an excellent ball from Katie Glynn but, alone in front of the goal, could not turn fast enough to beat Toni Cronk in the Australian goal. The match continued with end to end attacks, keeping well entertained the near capacity crowd, with very vocal contingents of Aussies and Kiwis. 
    Australia’s appeal to the video-umpire for a penalty-corner was rejected; however they soon played with an extra player when New Zealander Melody Cooper received a yellow card. They pushed forward, but the New Zealand defense weathered the storm quietly and the Aussies could not even generate a shot on goal.
    Despite playing short one player, New Zealand managed to force a penalty-corner after a long run by Gemma Flynn, but Katie Glynn’s flick was weak and the score did not evolve. With time running out, the Australians became more desperate in their attacks. Georgia Nanscawen, Casey Eastham and Hope Munro were very active upfront but the Black Sticks’ defense, efficiently backed by Bianca Russell, once again held tight.
     With two minutes to go, Australia replaced their goalkeeper with an extra field player. The gambit nearly paid off on their first attack, but it was too little too late and New Zealand earned the 3 points of the win on the benefit of their early goal.

(Yan Huckendubler)