Couzins concedes medal chances are gone

SIMON PLUMB IN LONDON
Last updated 12:49 04/08/2012
Dean Couzins
IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
BIG OPPORTUNITY: Dean Couzins is one of nine Black Sticks who will be auctioned for the new Hockey India League.

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Captain Dean Couzins has already written-off the Olympic medal hopes of the men's Black Sticks.

Last night's 5-1 defeat to powerhouse hockey nation the Netherlands hurled New Zealand's Olympic semi-final chances into the realm of extreme improbability, but not impossibility.

They must now win their two remaining group games against minnows Belgium and world number two Germany, needing to significantly raise their goal differential in the process while also hoping other results go their way.

But post-match, Couzins, who consoled himself with news of the Kiwi rowing success which had played out at Eton Dorney during his side's Dutch defeat, appeared to have thrown in the towel.

London 2012, he said, has become a matter of pride and enjoyment.

"The semi-finals are gone, which is pretty disappointing. You work so bloody hard towards stuff, it's hard to take," Couzins said.

"It's important for us to finish as high as we can in the tournament and enjoy playing well with each other, that's what I'd really like to see."

An opening 2-0 loss to Korea has proven to be a wound which just won't stop bleeding.

It meant the Black Sticks would need to roll one of the world's second or third best teams, in Germany and the Netherlands, to have any chance of achieving their lofty pre-Olympic goal of a bronze medal match.

And while the world's seventh-ranked team aren't dead in the water yet, coach Shane McLeod also seemed resigned to the final breath lurking just around the corner.

"It's really tough. A lot of things happen in sport but if you play it through logically, there would have to be a few mathematical things to allow us to get through," McLeod said.

"We just have to make sure we concentrate on each game as it comes now.

"That [Korea loss] made this a must-win, hence the importance of this game comes through."

Making the Dutch loss even harder to swallow was New Zealand made a perfect start to the game, with Simon Child slotting home in the fifth minute.

But before the first half was out, New Zealand had slipped to 3-1 down against a side they haven't beaten since August 2010.

"To get a goal against Holland straight off was a perfect start," McLeod said.

"To see it dwindle away is obviously disappointing."

The Black Sticks were better than the scoreboard suggested however, conceding two goals in the second half after they were forced to chase the game.

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"It becomes a bit of a coin flip when the game becomes that open. We were aiming for a quick goal after halftime and then the momentum of the game can easily swing.

"But in chasing that you leave yourself vulnerable at the back"

The Black Sticks' next game is against Belgium on Sunday, 7.30pm.

- Fairfax Media

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