Aotearoa's Black Sticks Women went down to host nation Belgium 1-0 in their third World Hockey League Semi Final game, don't buzz though as this should have no impact on their progression to the quarter finals. The kiwis enjoyed many opportunities and peppered the Belgium goal, they even had their fair share of penalty corners that they had been so good at converting up to this point, yet rallying with support from their home crowd, Belgium held on.
Their goal came from a counter attack after a Black Sticks penalty corner and this followed the flow of the game as the kiwis were often pounced upon by groups of Belgium defenders. When the Black Sticks face a team who have nailed a defensive systems and from that can attack with speed, against a scrambled kiwi defence then things change.
In some respects this was a good result for the Black Sticks as they not only had a reality check in terms of converting their opportunities, they came up against the host nation that had plenty of support. This provided an atmosphere that was very different to that of Aotearoa's previous games and perhaps the added pressure of such a funky crowd contributed to the lack of execution.
There is obviously room for improvement and as we are likely to see Aotearoa re-gain some confidence against Malaysia (who lost to Belgium 0-9 but didn't get smoked by a similar margin against Australia and Spain), these lessons will be more evident in the quarter final.
Playing Malaysia in their last pool game could be a bit weird as the skill and strength in ball-carrying from Aotearoa should blow away Malaysia, however I'm still not convinced that this is can translate into success come finals hockey. Better defences will love this and Belgium's ability to get bodies around the ball in defence, cluttering the kiwi ball-carrier is a fine example of this. That certain kiwi players do tend to get stuck with their heads down plays into better defensive schemes, although against Malaysia this is likely to provide plenty of goals.
Sidenote: Belgium is exactly the sort of hockey nation that I want Aotearoa to become and I will lead the charge.
The Black Sticks Men are also in Belgium, playing against Belgium in a few warm up games before the go to South Africa for their own WHLSF. Game one is in the bag with Belgium winning 3-2, only after the kiwis came back from 2-0 down to level the scores via goals from Sam Lane and Stephen Jenness.