The Black Sticks have emerged as a pretty dangerous team at the World Cup, a team worth taking note of thanks to some very solid performances in their first two games. Unfortunately they came up another team who has dark horse aspirations - Argentina last night and suffered a tough loss which means they have tot get some results from their games against big dogs Holland and Germany.
They lads have been pretty enjoyable to watch. They're hard to break down thanks to some funky defensive presses, most notably setting up with four players up front clogging up the channels for passes down field. Colin Batch looks to have continued to empower his troops to play a fluid, pass orientated style of hockey on attack along with hard work and grit on defence.
The Black Stick lads kicked off their World Cup campaign with a gutsy 2-1 over South Korea with whom they've had many good battles with in recent years. Steve Edwards got the first right from the start as the Black Sticks produced a crisp passing move with Edwards tapping in a reverse from close range. Phil Burrows then got the winner late in the game after Korea equalised, with Burrows knocking in a rebound from a penalty corner strike. The Black Sticks and Korea have a similar style where they work very hard and are pretty hard to break down thanks to this work rate and their organisation. This produced an absorbing game and for the lads to get off to a winning start in a game that perhaps on another day in years past they might have drawn or lost is awesome. Both sides had chances to pull away from the other with Korea hitting the post twice, once from a penalty stroke. That's probably fair enough though as the Korean player took a bit of a dive, as the commentator said "he swung himself off his feet".
The Black Sticks were always a fair chance against South Africa but these sort of games have proven to be a bit of a banana skin in the past. This wasn't the case this time around as the lads got up 5-0 with Simon Child's scorching shot early in the game followed by two Andy Hayward drag flicks putting the pressure on South Africa early. Hayward soon finished up with a hatty. The Black Sticks didn't create a whole heap of chances nor did they really dominate the game, but the fact that the took the majority of their chances was impressive. They were able to absorb pressure and defended strongly as the South Africans had a decent amount of the ball and had more circle penetrations than the kiwis 21-20.
It was a great game for the Black Sticks to build confidence in their systems and they were able to string attacking movements together, often after defending for a lengthy period. They had much more time on the ball and space than they will have against the better teams, they were able to get to where they wanted and execute. There's plenty of young talent but seeing the likes of Phil Burrows, Shea McAleese, Simon Child and Dean Couzins leading the team strongly is pretty awesome.
Against Argentina, everything started off awesomely. The Black Sticks put together some of the finest passing movements I've seen, they were dominating possession and had control of the game. This was a combination of the Black Sticks looking crisp and the Argentinians sitting deep and absorbing what the Black Sticks threw at them - they were pretty lucky however with Simon Child smoking a reverse against the cross bar and Steve Edwards having his close range effort well saved.
Argentina then made the most of their penalty corners with the Black Sticks only able to score thanks to a nifty Stephen Jenness deflection resulting in a 3-1 loss for the kiwis. It's hard to say whether it was the Black Sticks who couldn't break down Argentina, they definitely didn't help themselves by turning over ball on a regular basis in the mid-field. Or we put praise on Argentina. To say they were niggly would be an under statement, they fight hard and do anything to slow you up or limit your chances. They had already upset the Germans and did a similar job against the Black Sticks. They're a team on the rise with some quick skillful strikers who can at the very least win penalty corners from nothing after they've defended for a while.
Germany and the Dutch. Two very tough games, but two opportunities for the Black Sticks to really show what they're made of. The Black Sticks currently sit in second place thanks to a decent goal tally against South Africa giving them the edge over Argentina who are also on 6 points with 2 wins 1 loss. Argentina play Korea and South Africa, games they could easily win or loose depending which side of the bed they wake up on. They have it easier than the Kiwis but world hockey is such that anyone can beat anyone so we'll have to hope for some upsets all round.