Black Sticks defeat Australia in first match
Black Sticks women's hockey coach Mark Hager says he knew on the bus ride to the Riverbank Arena that his players were about to produce the game of their lives at the Olympics tonight.
The 1-0 win over Australia in a fast and thrilling affair has set up the Black Sticks for an exciting campaign and the hero of the occasion was Cathryn Finlayson who scored from a penalty corner in just the third minute.
Hager was over the moon at the result which was the first time the Black Sticks women had beaten Australia at the Olympics.
"We were in the bus on the way out here and it was deadly silent," Hager said after the game.
"They were so focused on what they wanted to do. It was the most switched on I have ever seen them. There was a sense of 'we have a job to do let's go and do it'."
The Black Sticks are in Pool B, dubbed the pool of death. Powerhouses Germany and Argentina are still to be played but for the moment the Black Sticks' campaign is alive and kicking while Australia's is in tatters.
"It is a great start for us," Hager said.
"I said to Kayla (Sharland) and Emily (Naylor) when they walked off, 'well that is one better than last time', when they didn't win a game (in Beijing) at all.
"We always spoke we had to come away with at least a point, to get three is crucial."
The Black Sticks were a step quicker and looked fitter than their rivals but they turned over too much ball on attack and subsequently had to scramble in defence.
There were some anxious moments but the defence held and goalkeeper Bianca Russell peeled over two or three brilliant saves.
Australian coach Adam Commens questioned a few umpiring calls post-match but he did praise the effort of the Black Sticks.
"They have the ability to beat any side, what we saw today was as good as I've seen them play, particularly in defence," Commens said.
" They are a team on the up and certainly capable of winning medals."
It was heart in the month stuff late in the game as the young Australians pressed for the equaliser. The Black Sticks weren't helped by a yellow card to Melody Cooper for a raised elbow midway through the second spell, which reduced them to 10 players for 10 minutes.
"I wasn't sure what was going on,"an exhausted Sharland said.
"One (umpire) pointed one way and the other pointed the other way, then we got a card. That is the way it goes and I thought we dealt with it pretty well.
At the fulltime hooter the Black Sticks raised their sticks in the air. They had plenty of stars aside from goalscorer Finlayson and goalkeeper Russell. Cooper displayed some great touches, Anita Punt flew up and down the turf, Stacey Miichelsen was strong down the wing and of course Sharland controlled the game brilliantly.
The penalty corner count favoured the Black Sticks 3-1.
The Black Sticks now have a day's rest before taking on South Africa at 10.45am on Tuesday (9.45pm NZ time).