First the shattering disappointment of a bizarre defeat, then the joy of a superb performance. That was the story for New Zealand hockey over a 14-hour period.
After the New Zealand men’s team suffered a stunning quarter-final defeat by Germany, conceding three goals in the final four minutes to lose 3-2, the New Zealand women played one of their greatest matches to beat Australia 4-2.
The New Zealand women’s quarter-final win confirms their improving form in the tournament. Their results before today have been: beat South Korea 4-1, lost to Germany 2-1, beat Spain 2-1, drew with Netherlands 1-1, beat China 3-0.
Playing Australia, always such a tough proposition, in a quarter-final was a demanding challenge, but the New Zealand women always looked the better team after they survived a testing first quarter of an hour.
They had 55 per cent of possession and manufactured better scoring opportunities.
New Zealand opened the scoring in the seventh minute when Anita McLaren converted a penalty corner. The lead doubled to 2-0 after 24 minutes when Kelsey Smith added another goal from a penalty corner.
The Australians pulled one back through Kathryn Slattery, also from a penalty corner, after 33 minutes and it was 2-1 to New Zealand at halftime.
Into the second half, Gemma Flynn scored New Zealand’s third after 39 minutes and just four minutes later Olivia Merry made it 4-1. Nothing is sure in hockey as New Zealanders learned in the men’s match against Germany, but there was a comforting assurance about the New Zealand women’s play.
Australia scored a consolation goal through Slattery in the last minute, but the final scoreline of 4-2 fairly reflected how play had gone.
It was a complete New Zealand performance, but captain Kayla Whitelock was superb with her work in the midfield.
New Zealand coach Mark Hagen was understandable delighted with how the game had gone.
“We were under the pump a little at the start, but once Anita scored that first goal we relaxed and executive our game plan well,” he said.
“I thought defensively we were very good.”
He said the key was that when New Zealand got chances, they converted them.
“A couple of balls fell our way and we hit ’em in. You have to be ready to capitalise and we were.”
The New Zealanders made the semi-finals at the London Olympics four years ago but could not manage to win a medal. They seem determined to go a step further this time.
Their semi-final opponent will be either Great Britain or Spain.
As defender Samantha Charlton said afterwards: “This is just the start. Our next game will be even bigger and we’ll be ready for it.”Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games Kayla Whitelock Gemma Flynn Anita McLaren Olivia Merry Mark Hager Hockey