Our Black Sticks Women have got their World Hockey League Semi Final off to a strong start, beating Spain 1-0 in the opening game. These two teams prepared for the WHLSF with a little series and the kiwis saved weren't quite able to roll past Spain in that series, yet here they held on after Olivia Merry knocked in an early goal.
Aotearoa have some time off and will face Australia Saturday night and they'll be eager to build on this win, especially with their strength in defence. They held Spain scoreless, while Australia got a 3-1 win over Malaysia and then defeated Belgium 1-0, so a lot will depend on how well the likes of Brooke Neal, Liz Thompson, Natasha Fitzsimons and Ella Gunson can hold things down at the back. The work of Sam Charlton and Pippa Hayward will also be crucial in limited the influence of Australia's play-makers.
The strength of this Black Sticks Women's team does appear to be in how they shut down their opposition, which lends itself to a counter-attacking style on attack. I reckon that plays into the hands of players such as Stacey Michelsen who can receive the ball out of defence, beat a player and than break the field open, Hayward had a prime example of this as she got the ball in the middle of the field, powered through the middle and then had an open shot.
There's speed in Kelsey Smith and Kirsten Pearce as well, while the goal-scoring ability of Sam Harrison and Olivia Merry should see opportunities snapped up. It'll be interesting to see how the Black Sticks go about dismantling Australia as I suspect the Aussies will enjoy most of the possession.
Aotearoa is in Pool B and so far we've seen Australia beat Malaysia 3-1, Australia beat Belgium 1-0 and Spain defeat Malaysia 3-1. That means that the next two games against Australia and Belgium will be massive for the kiwis, they'll come back-to-back over the weekend and with two days off after their first game, the Black Sticks have probably spent a fair amount of time watching Australia and Belgium in preparation for this game.
Here's all the bits and bobs I could find from the HWLSF, although the FIH have slacked off with their coverage which is a bit stink.