For many hockey players, a big tournament in Holland would be the pinnacle. Winning an Olympic gold would be up there near the top of the list but to play in a World Cup hosted by perhaps the premier hockey nation in the world, well that's pretty awesome as well. The Black Sticks are joining the hockey world in the Hague to not only celebrate hockey but to showcase hockey to the world.
First of all, the Hague looks like an amazing place to not only visit but to play hockey. Nestled on the western coast of Holland, it serves as the third largest city in the Netherlands. Hockey in Holland is big, it's been a place many New Zealand and other hockey players from around the world could play hockey and earn a living. Instead of playing in front of a few hundred at an international game, a Dutch club game can attract thousands and for these kiwi lads the opportunity to play in front of 15,000 hockey addicts would be that of their dreams.
The Black Sticks head in to the World Cup eager to impress. They had a disappointing Champions Challenge where they were ousted by an up and down Malaysian team, leaving them fighting for a 5th spot against teams they should and did easily beat. Such a performance would have left many hockey fans pretty upset. If this was the cut throat, judgemental world of say English football, heads may have rolled. But the World Cup was just around the corner.
The World Cup is now only a few days away from kicking off. Despite their slip up in Malaysia, the Black Sticks have been building well and are establishing an identity. This identity could be described as that of a typical kiwi battler. The Black Sticks have shown in 2014 that they are eager to work extremely hard to ensure that they are hard to break down, let alone be scored upon. They have speed, a strong work ethic and are well organised. That's how we want our sports teams to play.
The World Cup will be a great opportunity to not only showcase the above, but also the talent they have. While they work hard and do the intangibles on defence, the Black Sticks have the ability to surprise a few with their attacking prowess. They have a group of strikers who have and are currently adjusting well to international hockey, allowing them to feel comfortable and play with more freedom. To single out players wouldn't be fair as while the likes of Simon Child can break a game open, he'll be valiantly supported upfront by Hugo Inglis, Steven Jenness, Blair Hilton, Marcus Child and Jared Panchia. Veterans Phil Burrows and Shea McAleese play their role as do Steve Edwards and Arun Panchia. Their is no reliance on an individual to produce, which will make for exciting times as is the fact that the team is able to create chances and pounce on any chance presented to them.
Their schedule looks like this - Korea, South Africa, Argentina, Germany and the Netherlands. Life will become pretty difficult if the Black Sticks drop points against Korea, South Africa or Argentina. They are capable of winning all three of these games - they know a fair bit about Korea having played them regularly, South Africa have never really made an impact at world tournaments and Argentina have impressed recently but who knows what to expect. To progress to the semi finals you would imagine that you would need to win four games. If upsets occur, you could get through with less but the target will be four wins.
Germany and the Netherlands make for interesting games. The Black Sticks will more than likely need to win atleast one of these games, meaning they'll have to go for the the kill. They are capable of winning their first three games and can definitely upset either Germany or the Netherlands. Colin Batch knows European hockey from his time as Belgium head coach and the Black Sticks will have a decent game plan to execute, the possibility of something awesome is there.
It's nice how things have worked out with those first three games being against the lesser nations and the two massive games coming later in the group stages. We'll check back in after the Black Sticks play Argentina to see what their chances of progression are like.