Black Sticks men lose opener to Korea
It's not in coach Shane McLeod's character to roast his side - publicly at least - and nothing changed tonight after the Black Sticks men's hockey team crashed to a 2-0 defeat against Korea at the Olympic Games.
The Black Sticks started well and ended well but the 60 minutes in between were disappointing and McLeod had few clues why following the early morning game at Riverbank Arena.
"It's not the start we were after and it probably means we have to turn over one of the big teams in our group now (Germany or the Netherlands)," McLeod said.
"We played well within ourselves, it's disappointing, and maybe the players just under-estimated the pressure of the first game.
"There were a few uncharacteristic errors out there and just nobody stood out for us."
Anyone who watched the opening five minutes would've thought the Black Sticks were going to turn on an early morning treat for the near capacity crowd.
Even fluffed scoring chances by Simon Child and Ryan Archibald were brushed off as nothing to be alarmed about, but how wrong we were.
Korea then took a stranglehold on the game and it was only in the late stages when the Black Sticks forced three penalty corners that they looked like scoring. Andy Hayward and Shea McAleese both went close from the top of the circle but goalkeeping heroics by Lee Myung Ho and a last gasp defender on the post kept the Black Sticks scoreless.
Korea scored both their goals before halftime, both to You Hyo Sik and both in identical fashion with speculative crosses sent into the circle and You finding himself unmarked on the end of them.
The first game in the 19th minute when the Black Sticks were down to 10 men after Nick Haig was sent to the naughty chair for two minutes following a raised stick.
The next goal came in the 34th minute when a cross was not dealt with by the Black Sticks defence.
McLeod blamed the defeat on a collectively below-par effort rather than some individual shockers.
"We ended up chasing the game and to Korea's credit they defended well," McLeod said.
"It is not the end of the world but it is harder now. Still, I've been with this side long enough to know that when their backs are to the wall they play their best hockey."
At the final hooter, the Black Sticks put hands on knees while the Korean joined in a circle and chanted as though they had won the tournament.
Korea are no slouches, they are ranked No 6 in the world to New Zealand's No 7, but this was a must win game for the boys in the black singlets and now makes their qualifying path doubly difficult.
The Black Sticks should put away India on Thursday morning (12.45am) but then they face the Netherlands in a match that may define their campaign. Another loss there might render their remaining matches against Belgium and Germany as little more than ranking affairs.