Aotearoa's Black Sticks made some much needed improvements from their opening win over France in their second game vs Argentina, although a few lapses in concentration saw the classy South Americans walk away with a 3-0 win. Working in the kiwis favour as the prepare to face Spain tomorrow morning, was a 1-1 draw between Spain and France which keeps the Black Sticks in 2nd spot for their pool.
Showing their intentions early, the Black Sticks went straight on to the attack from the first whistle and fought valiantly against Argentina. The first goal came from fairly mediocre marking on the far post, from Dane Lett who allowed the Argentinian striker to wiggle free, receive a lovely pass from Gonzalo Peillat then have enough time to wind up on his reverse.
Lett is a good 3-4m away from Agustin Mazzilli here:
Conceding a goal like that, kinda set the tone for the rest of the game. Not in a dramatic way, merely in the sense that such minor details would be pounced all over by Argentina and when they were presented with another sniff as skipper Blair Tarrant tried to run the ball out of his circle, they smacked it home.
Running the ball out of your circle ain't ideal, although there was space in front of Tarrant. Fantastic striker-defence, saw the ball get snatched from Tarrant and again, that's a lapse in concentration:
Tarrant instantly went for the review, which was unsuccesful. Tarrant's initial protests took away from his defensive duty, which when combined with Corey Bennett's protests which then led to his karate-defence, gave Lucas Villa the time and space for his forehand shot - which Richard Joyce got a glove to:
With a review up your sleeve, such protests don't really need to happen. Both Tarrant and Bennett didn't give up on the play, yet they slowed down enough while protesting to give up time and space. Again, minor details that you can't afford to go against you when playing one of the top-tier hockey teams.
The third goal was a bit of a penalty corner scramble, but points to the joy of hockey at this level as Argentina rolled out a play to counter Aotearoa sending two runners in front of the drag-flick. Peillat slid the ball behind him, around the two runners and the next drag-flick was save by Joyce before the rebound was slotted into the goal:
Those first two goals were crucial though as they put Argentina in control and while Aotearoa created chances, generally playing nice hockey and competing strongly, it's a tough ask to come back from 2-0 down vs Argentina. There was no big issue with those two goals, just a minor dip in concentration and this presents optimism moving forward as the kiwis presented those opportunities as opposed to being out-classed.
In fact, the Black Sticks improved on their niggly first game vs France and went up a level to play Argentina. Against France, the kiwis had 47 percent possession and 58.51 percent passing accuracy. While they allowed Argentina to fiddle with the ball, having just 40 percent possession, the kiwis were more efficient when they had the ball with 65.58 percent passing accuracy; a big improvement on their effort vs France.
The possession doesn't matter as much, especially for Aotearoa who are going to play more of a counter-punching style against these top-tier teams. To to do so though, they need to combine swiftly with their passing and this presented the Black Sticks with 7 shots, on 14 circle entries, which compared to Argentina's 11 shots on 20 circle entries, doesn't align with the disparity in possession; Argentina should have a lot more, Aotearoa less.
Good signs heading into the Spain game, which the kiwis don't necessarily have to win. In the knockout phase, both 2nd and 3rd go into crossover games, meaning that Aotearoa could slip to 3rd and then likely face China. Finish 2nd in their pool and they will likely face either Ireland or England. Spain will have to win to overtake the kiwis; Argentina 6pts, NZ 3, Spain 1, France 1.
Spain pushed Argentina hard, but then slipped up in their game vs France making it hard to know which Spain team will show up. Adding to the intrigue are the tactical changes made by Black Sticks coach Darren Smith for the game vs Argentina; Arun Panchia playing a more central role, playing with three defenders and promoting Kane Russell up the right even more than they did vs France.
How the kiwis go about this Spain game will be interesting, then it boils down to execution. With a splash of pressure, against an unpredictable Spain team, the kiwis will now need to rise for a different challenge to the niggly French and classy Argentinians.
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Peace and love 27.