Sometimes sport can just be a cheeky bugger can't it? In a game that they would have liked to win and would have definitely wanted to escape with at least a point via a draw, the Black Sticks men suffered a heart-breaking loss in the last few seconds, going down 3-2 to Spain.
As the lovely commentator lady kept reminding us, Spain are ranked 11th in the world and as I alluded to yesterday in my thingy about the Black Sticks women, you'd be foolish to pay any attention to world rankings. Spain are a slick outfit and they are joined by Belgium at the top of Pool A as teams who aren't renowned as being among the world's upper echelon, as well as being teams who have beaten Australia 1-0 in the Rio Olympics.
Spain are slick, let's put it that way. They play with pace and strength similar to Australia, however what I love about Spain at the moment is that their flair and razzle dazzle ability is peaking. They basically play hockey as you'd expect a Spanish nation team to play and while they were gritty and niggly without the ball, their ability to beat defenders with their skill and combine with passes that went to where their comrade was without a second-thought, posed many problems for the kiwis.
Most of Spain's attacking opportunities came via swift counter-attacking movements and this was headlined by their winning goal. The Black Sticks managed to get a penalty corner with a minute on the clock but failed to convert and Spain rampaged their way down-field, with the goal coming on the back of their ability to get quickly down the other end of the field and cause the kiwis to scramble.
The Black Sticks played well, which is why this result will be tough to swallow. They looked comfortable in possession and attacked the wide channels as we've come to expect, it always felt as though they posed a threat to the Spanish defence and much of this came from their skipper Simon Child. Child was once again highly influential and kiwi hockey fans should be pretty damn grateful that they can enjoy the work of a world-class player, who is eager to lead his troops into battle.
Child scored two goals, which were examples of his ability but they came from the work of his kiwi homies. James Coughlin made a penetrating run through the midfield before offloading to Child, who then jinked his way through defenders and tapped home the goal early in the game. Then Nick Wilson got a penalty corner, deflecting the ball on to a Spanish foot, effectively earning a PC from nothing and Child was then called upon to strike as a Spanish player was sent back to halfway for breaking early. Usually this is the domain of the drag-flicker, however with on three Spanish defenders and the goalie there, Child received a German (spinny thing) and nailed a shot between the goalie's legs.
The first goal showed how influential Child is to this team as it came after the kiwis had to defend three penalty corners, with Child positioned behind goalie Devon Manchester as the last line of defence. They conceded a goal here, however Child was back in the heart of defence and then produced some aerial wizardry to score only a few seconds later. Let's not forget that Child is at his most dangerous dropping back into midfield areas as a striker and did this frequently against Spain, pulling the strings for the kiwis and sparking them into attack.
Manchester again deserves special mention because his work between the pipes helped repel many Spanish attacks. Manchester is showing that you don't need to be big, as long as you can move well and anticipate the play, which he does with world-class ability and as fans, we'd be better turning out focus on defensive lapses for the Spanish goals and not the work of Manchester.
The strength of Pool A and the rise of Spain and Belgium is working against the kiwis now. They have themselves to blame really as it goes all the way back to their failure to qualify initially which had them seeded down the pecking order, so they must now make sure they beat Belgium if they are to have any hope of making the quarterfinals. Tomorrow they face Brazil which should be a gimme result and they'll need Australia or Great Britain to drop points - Australia will beat Brazil in the last game of pool play, after they take on GB and GB will also have to face Spain.
Brazil could be tricky tomorrow, however Saturday's game against Belgium is now the biggun'. Saturday, around 9am ... I got the coffee, you bring the bacon and eggs.