Going into the semi-final against Great Britain, we heard how the Black Sticks Women were eager to avenge their London Olympics campaign. We heard how much it sucked and we heard how the veterans of the team still had that taste - that bitter, slimey taste ... kinda what the Black Sticks Men experienced - lingering after four years. In crunch time, when hockey fans around the world were watching, the women buckled and served up their worst game of the Olympics, going down 3-0 to GB.
Of course, there's still a chance for a medal with the game for Bronze going down early Saturday morning against Germany. That in itself is nothing to be scoffed at and while this thingy-ma-jig does have a negative tone, the Black Sticks are in with a sniff of an Olympic medal and as any kiwi hockey fan knows, an Olympic hockey medal would be a moment to savour. I will go into some depth about the world of hockey and how Aotearoa fits into that world after the Olympics, for now we just need to remember that our hockey teams simply aren't as professional as other nations. These kiwi hockey players work, they study and epitomise the kiwi Olympic dream, so to walk away with a medal would be nothing less than epic.
The disappointment comes from knowing that the Black Sticks simply didn't put their best foot forward in the semi, kinda reminding me of everything that went wrong at the Champions Trophy tournament a few months ago. Against GB, we saw the Black Sticks team from the Champions Trophy and not from the Rio Olympics and that is why despite chasing a bronze medal, disappointment lingers in the air.
GB were plucky, the kiwis weren't out-classed or made to look like the amateurs that many of them are. The Brits defended strongly, both as a unit and individually with the lasting memory from this game being the many one-on-one tackles that GB players made. As a unit, they shut down passing lanes and kept the Black Sticks from storming down field with pace via Anita McLaren. As individuals, they executed their defensive roles to near perfection.
They were aided by the inability of the kiwis to simply pass the ball with precision, a level of precision that you'd expect from a top-4 side. Far too often, GB players made those tackles simply because the kiwis had decided to run with the ball, into a congested area where at least on GB player was always waiting.
GB snuffed out any brewing kiwi counter-attack by just being there. Black Sticks players ran with the ball to often and were guilty of letting lose passes drift on to a GB stick when coming out of their defensive area, gifting the ball back to GB.
Olivia Merry's quick-fire snap at the ball, with her back to goal with enough time and space to make a 'cuppa, summed up how the Black Sticks attacked. Opportunities were few and far between and as Merry found herself wide open in the circle, she lacked composure and let a golden chance to draw level slip. Merry wasn't alone in that though, with the ball flying past the far post a few times and the first two drag-flicks from Liz Thompson and McLaren both went wide of the goal.
GB's first goal came from a penalty corner. Rose Keddell inexplicably decided to play rugby outside the circle and gave away the PC. A scramble in front of Sally Rutherford the product of the ball simply going at the goal and it showed how beneficial it is to merely force the goalie into a save, not firing wide.
Somehow the kiwis were still in the game until late at 1-0. There was always a chance of a counter-attack etc, there was always a chance because the kiwis have that sort of ability but Kayla Whitelock also decided she was playing rugby and took a GB striker down as she headed towards the goal. Whitelock was sent to the bin, GB had a penalty stroke, 2-0.
Thompson also felt the need to play some rugby and gave away another stroke, 3-0.
If this was a 3rd/4th playoff, you'd wonder how the Black Sticks would pick themselves up after such a bummer of a performance. This is Olympic hockey though and there's still a medal to play for, a medal that would be a nice reward for the entire kiwi hockey program as both teams are doing what kiwis do best and are punching above their weight, against teams who are better resourced.