Paying too much attention to rankings in tournaments like the Olympics is a silly past time of many folk.. The Black Sticks Women beat Korea 4-1 in their opening game before going down to Germany 2-1 overnight; Korea are ranked 8th and Germany 9th in the world so there's no point relying on your world rankings to try and decipher how Olympic hockey is going to pan out.
Just take a look at Pool B where Australia are ranked 3rd in the world and don't have a point to their name just yet. Olympic hockey can be crazy and despite what would be considered a bummer of a loss to Germany, the kiwi women are still staring at the quarterfinals with a confident gaze as they'll probably only need one win from their last two games to ensure that they finish in the top-4 of Pool A.
Despite going down 2-1 to Germany, the kiwi women put up 15 shots to Germany's 16 and simply didn't take their chances as well as they should have. This was in contrast to their opening game against Korea where they were able to put pressure on the Korean defenders, force an errant pass and then pounce on any loose opportunity with a splash of ruthlessness that they are capable of inside their opponent's circle. Kirsten Pearce and Charlotte Harrison both scored goals against Korea as the kiwis pressed their opponents high up the field and forced turnovers, with Pearce and Harrison in the right place at the right time.
Over the two games, the Black Sticks Women looked at their best when they attack with pace and strong ball movement, which came mostly against Korea. Via a highly skilled midfield led by Kayla Whitelock, the kiwis are able to transfer the ball from one side of the field to the other through the midfield layer instead of going back to the defenders and attack open space.
When Anita McLaren and Stacey Michelsen are picking the ball up with room to move, the Ferns are capable of slicing through teams with ease. Things get tricky - as they did at the Champions Trophy - when these players want to carry the ball into congested areas and against a well organised defence like Germany's, these runs are easy to pick off.
There's no surprises in saying that Whitelock is crucial to this team as they chase another win or two in games against Spain, Netherlands and China. Whitelock has been playing in a deep midfield role, where she anchors the defence and can act as a pivot when the Black Sticks are looking to shift the ball. Webster scored a nice deflected goal against Korea, which started from Whitelock winning a turnover out on the right sideline, getting the ball back in the middle and hitting a bullet to Webster. Whitelock not only leads the effort and desire of the Black Sticks, she's also their key distributor and with the likes of McLaren and Michelsen eager to carry the ball, Whitelock's passing is crucial.
The Black Sticks face Spain on Thursday NZT and Spain are coming off a 5-0 loss to Netherlands and a 2-0 loss to China - the two teams that the kiwis will face to round off their Pool games. A loss to Germany certainly isn't ideal, however international hockey is extremely competitive and that's what we love about it as any of the world's top-10 teams can beat each other on their day. We should definitely be concerned if the Black Sticks struggle against Spain, or perhaps more notably if we see the same lack of cohesion that plagued their Champions Trophy campaign and held them back against Germany seep through to their game against Spain.
Spain are definitely beat-able and the Black Sticks should dictate how this game is played, they did it against Korea and need to stamp their mark on Thursday's game.