Black Sticks facing 'do or die' vs Hockeyroos
JONATHAN MILLMOW IN LONDON
Hold onto your hats - the Black Sticks and the Hockeyroos are about to wage war in a potentially do or die women's hockey match in London.
Pool B is the "pool of death" with four good teams and only two to qualify for the Olympic semi-finals.
New Zealand and Australia are only ranked third and fourth in this group but secretly both fancy their chances of causing an upset later on against Argentina or Germany.
So today is a kiss or cry affair - the winner in the hunt, the loser needing a miracle.
In the nine most recent clashes dating back to the 2010 Commonwealth Games final in Delhi that Australia won 4-2 on strokes, the scoreboard reads four wins to Australia, three to New Zealand and two draws.
Black Sticks coach Mark Hager is urging his team to be aggressive in the early morning game (8.30am local time).
"We have to be aggressive and push as hard as they do and take no backwards steps," Hager said.
"We have to convert the chances we get. Normally in our games we get eight each, so we have to put ours away."
The Black Sticks are fast and fit and captained by the brilliant Kayla Sharland, girlfriend of Crusaders flanker George Whitelock.
She and Emily Naylor are three time Olympians and two others - Krystal Forgesson and Gemma Flynn - are both at their second Games.
Sharland has a good passing and receiving game and all the experience in the world (169 caps).
"Aussie will be tough, but exciting at the same time," Sharland said.
"The girls are really hungry to get this game."
Australia will base its game on power and counter attack. They have been open about their tactics and will rotate their midfielders in short, sharp bursts.
"They're going in ranked above us, so it's obviously (important)," senior player Casey Eastham said.
"If we play our game and put everything on the pitch that we've set out to do, then we can come away with a good win.
"We definitely want to get on the board because we've got a tough pool and some really tough games ahead of us."
It might be a game decided on penalty corners. The Black Sticks have options, but none of them deadly. Australia has a highly rated drag flick option in powerful, late-blooming farmer's daughter Jodie Schultz.
Everyone is trying to get an edge, leading to a few shenanigans during the week. The Hockeyroos accused the Black Sticks of videoing one of their training sessions, to which Hager said " we were in France".
Then there is the much publicised sleeping pattern of the Black Sticks to help them prepare for their 8.30am games. They hit the sack early and will be expected to be on the go from 5.30am on match day.
"We try and wind down around 7pm," Sharland said.
"We have these special glasses we put on with amber lenses.
"That shuts out all the blue light and then we have a process in terms of a hot shower, computers off at a certain time, no cellphones, no alarm clock (lights) visible - all those things that stimulate your mind."
- © Fairfax NZ News