One of New Zealand's best-funded team sports will be thrust under an Olympic-sized microscope tonight.
The men's Black Sticks face the Netherlands, the world's third-ranked hockey team, in a match which could nudge the Kiwis on to the brink of London 2012 obscurity.
Despite yesterday's 3-1 win over India, the effects of a poor 2-0 opening defeat to Korea haven't gone away.
With three pool games remaining, coach Shane McLeod, who last week had “high hopes for the semifinals”, reckons his side needs at least two wins to have a chance of qualifying.
Belgium, ranked 11th in the world compared with the Black Sticks at seventh, should be no problem. But the other win must come against either the Dutch or, even more difficult, world No 2 Germany.
McLeod has talked up the chance of beating the Netherlands tonight, suggesting stronger players were overlooked for their Olympic squad, and that they've “squeaked through” their first two wins in London.
McLeod's captain, Dean Couzins, is similarly optimistic about beating the men in orange - despite having not done so since 2010 - and losing seven of their past 10 encounters.
“They certainly are beatable,” Couzins said. But the pressure's on. At stake is their future high-performance funding.
This year $2,951,641 of public money was spread across the men's and women's national teams. Against other Olympic sports that's more than athletics ($2.16m), triathlon ($1.79m), canoeing ($1.64m) and equestrian ($2.01m).
In the four-year Olympic cycle since Beijing, Sport New Zealand's investment weighs in at $7,144,571.
Pool match: NZ v The Netherlands, 9.45pm
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