It's been a solid week for the Black Sticks which unfortunately finished up with a tough loss against their Malaysian hosts. This loss knocked the favourites out of the Champions Challenge but hey, they'll have plenty of time to make up for it this year.
Kicking off the tournament with a gritty 2-1 win over Ireland, the Black Sticks showed that they can get in to a grind with a team and emerge the victors. Ireland have emerged as a decent hockey team ... battlers in the nicest possible way. Their losses have come by no more than one goal with the constant being a strong, committed defence and a decent goalie. A good start for the kiwis to show that they have they schemes and talent to break down an organised, committed team.
Next up came a Japanese and 6-1 win for the Black Sticks. This one produced a bit more free flowing hockey with the kiwis able to continue to develop their passing style and take their chances. That's the key really, against the Aussies the Black Sticks faced a massive challenge just getting the chances, let alone convert them so they'll be gaining some confidence from getting a few goals.
They finished off the group stage with a big win over Poland, Simon Child the star of the show with a hat trick as the kiwis won 8-3. It's always good to put a few goals on the board, but what must have been really encouraging for the Black Sticks was the fact the the majority of the goals were scored by the lads upfront. Obviously Child's hatty helped a lot but with Stephen Jenness, Blair Hilton and Hugo Inglis all getting on the score sheet as well (Andy Hayward also got a double) it shows that the Black Sticks are taking their chances when they come and converting their dominance in the field to goals.
The lads tragically lost yesterday, going down in a shootout against a Malaysian team which had been performing well under par. There have been rumours of some discontent within the Malaysian camp, differing opinions you could say which could have some correlation to their performances during the earlier stages of the tournament. Apparently some players have been unhappy with the selection of players - many younger players were picked. World hockey is much better off when the Malaysians are on top of their game as they play a very exciting style of hockey and they are a nation of hockey lovers.
Unfortunately for us, they did start to fire. A tough pill to swallow but their performance deserves some props as they fought back from 4-1 to level the scores with a penalty corner strike from Andy Hayward late in the game. Playing Malaysia in front of their hockey loving fans would have been a great experience, albeit very difficult as the Malaysians were able to rally from their support and put together an inspired performance.
The Black Sticks will now face Poland as they look to finish as high as 5th, which will be very disappointing as they went in as favourites. No doubt they have plenty to play for and might be able to enjoy some pressure free hockey and get amongst the goals.