Black Sticks men positive ahead of Dutch clash

SIMON PLUMB IN LONDON
Last updated 11:46 02/08/2012
Shane McLeod
PHIL WALTERS/ Getty
STEPPING DOWN: Shane McLeod will not look to extend his contract with the men's Black Sticks.

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Mission possible. That's the message men's Black Sticks coach Shane McLeod is sending his side ahead of Friday's pivotal Olympic clash with Holland.

The world's third-ranked outfit could extinguish the momentum finally found by the Kiwi men's hockey team, recovering from a poor 2-0 opening loss to Korea by beating India 3-1 overnight in London.

And despite his side being four places behind in the world order, having not beaten the Dutch since August 2010, and losing seven of their last 10 games dating back to the 2006 Azlan Shah Cup, McLeod still fancies his chances.

The Netherlands, McLeod says, are not at their best so far in London 2012 and are ripe for the picking.

"We know them. Part of our preparation was to gain as much information about them as we could, and we did that. I reckon we've got a pretty good game plan," McLeod said.

"I don't think it's the best Dutch side I've ever seen. There are players they've selected, over others, which I feel are not as dangerous.

"And they've had a couple of games now where they've squeaked through a little bit.

"Although the scoreline said 3-1 against Belgium, I thought Belgium were better in the second half. It'll be interesting, but it is a hurdle to get over, psychologically.

"We've done a lot of workshops on Holland, so there'll be just a refresher about basic patterns and some of the things we want to do."
The most recent encounter, a 5-3 defeat in December last year, saw the Black Sticks make a decent fist of it.

But, that was in the back end of a good Champions Trophy campaign, and, with the support of an Auckland crowd.

Fast forward to London 2012 and even McLeod admits, his troops are not in best shape either.

"We're on the floor below the women's team who have played [and won] two games, and as you walk around on their floor there's a lot of positivity," he said.

"On our floor there's just this apprehension and waiting for the moment to make amends.

"The next couple of days is to de-stress the guys, the fear of losing is a hell of a thing. To get points on the board means our Olympics has started.

"The guys will be getting up and feeling a lot better about themselves than they were two days ago."

McLeod says two wins and a draw, from the three remaining Olympic group games, will be enough to send his side into the knockout phase. Possibly, just the two victories might even be sufficient.

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But when two of those three games are against the Netherlands and world number two Germany, it means the Black Sticks are going to have to roll one of them, and, bank on beating Belgium.

In other words, lose to the Dutch on Friday and the Olympic wheels are only 70 minutes from wobbling right off.

"I reckon with nine points you've got a chance. Ten and you'll be in," McLeod said.

"I think we're in a pool where a few teams are capable of beating each other, it might get a bit funny over the next few days.

"We've got Holland now and need to win to get the three points back that we lost in the first game. Then we're kind of back on track.

"But it's an easy thing to say, we have to play very well."

The Black Sticks' match against the Netherlands is on Friday, 9.45pm (NZT).

- Stuff

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