As we've seen many times in Rio and at previous Olympics, the smallest of margins can be the difference between a huge upset and a gut-wrenching loss. After being up 2-0 for much of their quarterfinal against Germany, the Black Sticks men fell 3-2 with Germany scoring via a drag-flick and then touching the winner in on the far post in the final few minutes.
The kiwis spent much of the game parked in their own half, hustling in true kiwi fashion to limit Germany's chances. Their grit in defence led to their attacking opportunities, with the first goal to Hugo Inglis coming from a tackle way back on their own 25m line as the kiwis worked through a clinical counter-attack starting with Simon Child, who carried and then slipped a pass to James Coughlin before Inglis carved through the Germany defence. The second goal came via a PC, as Inglis was all alone in the circle and forced a bad tackle out of the German defence. Shea McAleese then deflected home a well-worked move.
Unfortunately, it was McAleese who momentarily lost focus in the final play of the game. That's a great example of minor details and how crucial they are in high-pressured sporting competition that the Olympics provides as the kiwis appeared to have enough defenders back to stop a last-ditch German raid, with the hopeful hit to the far post able to sneak past McAleese and on to a German stick.
Germany are one of the slickest hockey teams in the world and for good reason. The Black Sticks defended strongly throughout the game, making crucial tackles with relative ease in deep defence and oozed a kiwi spirit that we expect of our athletes. Germany kept coming though and the Black Sticks conceded one too many PC's in the closing stages of the game, gifting a German PC bracket led by Moritz Fuerste who slammed two drag-flicks home.
Their best work came when Germany took their goal-keeper off the field, giving them an extra attacker to work with. Germany were always going to stick to their plan, stay disciplined and be patient with the ball despite being behind on the scoreboard and with the extra attacker, they did exactly that with the stereotypical efficiency that we have come to expect from German sports teams.
After the Olympics there will time to go through a full debrief of kiwi hockey, right now though it's hard not to offset how shitty a loss like that is with pride. The Black Sticks men came within a whisker of progressing thanks to staunch defence that stemmed from this unit working extremely hard and effectively, for and with each other. As we saw in the pool games, there was some razzle dazzle on attack as well and the kiwis weren't gifted many opportunities against Germany but they took the few they had with ruthlessness.
Germany are legit, they are among the best and will likely compete for a gold medal. They also enjoy a level of professional hockey that we can only envy here in Aotearoa and like many other kiwi athletes, this Black Sticks side aren't quite fully professional hockey players. They took Germany right until the final whistle and for that ... chur.