After rain and wind swept through Rosario, Argentina yesterday, we were made to wait patiently to see our Black Sticks ladies in action. Their final pool game against Germany was rescheduled for this morning, with the kiwis needing to take some points away from this game to qualify for the quarter-finals in second, after Netherlands sealed the top spot in their pool.
These sorts of games are all about the win. Nothing else really matters and while the Black Sticks gave up a lot of ball to the Germans - who traditionally like to hold possession - they pounced when they had to to secure a 3-1 win. A quarter-final against a crafty Great Britain side now awaits the kiwis tomorrow.
Spending a lot of time deep in their own half, soaking up German attacks, the Black Sticks rode the fine line of taking/not taking their chances. A few times younger players tried too much and gave up great attacking positions before Charlotte Harrison pounced on a nice outlet pass from defence (Brooke Neal gets a ka pai for the interception and pass to Harrison), touching the ball over her defender's stick with her first touch before running half the field and smoking the ball between the goalie's legs. 1-0 and the kiwis went back to defending their circle, waiting for their next opportunity.
This once again came from Harrison, who won a turnover in the middle of the field and then carried the ball into the circle. Her reverse shot/pass was touched by a German defender and fell nicely for Pippa Hayward who slotted her shot home, 2-0 and at this stage you felt as if the kiwis would grind out the win.
Liz Thompson then scored a drag-flick to make it 3-0, although the flick kinda summed up this game for the Black Sticks as Thompson effectively 'fluffed' it, not quite flicking the ball as perfectly as she would have liked. Yet luck was on the side of the kiwis for much of this game and the ball rolled into the goal.
It's hard to gauge where the Black Sticks are at ahead of their quarter-final because Germany lacked the cohesion/execution of their European neighbours Netherlands. While the Dutch worked intricate passes, combined with pace and skill, Germany opted to hit passes into the circle which didn't quite work for them. Many chances for Germany narrowly missed the kiwi goal or were well saved, but the likes of Brooke Neal, Rose Keddell, Ella Gunson, Sam Charlton and Liz Thompson were well organised and ensured that the player receiving the ball in the circle felt some pressure.
Great Britain will look to offer more variety in attacking the Black Sticks circle, which will make for interesting viewing. Germany's inability to take their chances presented the Black Sticks with many counter-attacking opportunities - meat and drink for the likes of Harrison, Anita Punt, Petrea Webster etc, so Great Britain will know that they can't give away cheap possession. Even if it's a 16-yard hit, the kiwis are able to make a few quick passes and they are up the other end.
A fine performance from Harrison came at the perfect time as the Black Sticks need her and the likes of Webster and Gemma Flynn to take charge in attack. While the younger players like Olivia Merry, Kelsey Smith, Kirsten Pearce etc are expected to play at a certain level, they weren't quite at that level today against Germany which is all good when Harrison for example is saying 'follow me'. Great Britain probably won't offer up as many opportunities to attack a scrambling defence, so the connections between all the strikers and those midfielders rampaging forward needs to be much better.
Job done, the Black Sticks are in the quarter-finals and now face a surprising Great Britain team. Great Britain have lost to Argentina 2-1, drew with China 1-1 and beat Australia 1-0 so I'm backing the kiwis to move on to the semi-finals and as we've seen today, if things aren't quite falling into place, the Black Sticks are capable of gritting their teeth and somehow finding a way to win.