Black Sticks secure late win over US
The women's Black Sticks have moved to within 70 minutes of a guaranteed shot at an Olympic medal with an important, but nervy, 3-2 win over the United States.
A draw against Germany, the world's third best team, could now be enough to seal a place in the semi-finals. But New Zealand have to win to be sure of their place in the final four.
On a milestone night for Emily Naylor and Anita Punt, collecting their 200th and 100th caps respectively, it was a late goal from Clarissa Eshuis which eventually sealed what should have been a very comfortable win.
The result keeps New Zealand at the top of Group B, level with Australia on nine points after four games.
Argentina and Germany, both on six points with a game in hand, play against each other later today (NZT) in a match which will heavily influence end of pool permutations.
Mark Hager's side may still look back on the match with regret though, having missed a golden chace to ramp up their goal differential.
Early goals have proven to be regular features in New Zealand games so far at London 2012, and Sharland continued the trend edging the Black Sticks ahead in the first minute from a penalty corner.
But in a first half which saw New Zealand create a myriad of opportunities, Hager will be frustrated by his side's toothless edge in front of goal finishing and moments of weakness at the back.
On the quarter-hour mark the USA equalised when the Black Sticks allowed Paige Selenski to weave her way down the left flank and cross for Katie O'Donnell.
Level terms were short-lived however, when Gemma Flynn fired straight back with a volleyed tap.
At that point chances started raining down, but Katie Glynn, Sam Harrison and Eshuis were all guilty of squandering good opportunities.
Harrison's miss was particularly bad, blazing high over the bar with the goal completely at her mercy.
Two minutes before the break Claire Laubach's made those errors count with a deflected shot finding its way over Kiwi keeper Nicola Russell.
At halftime New Zealand found themselves locked in a draw, when they should have been at least two goals ahead.
Frustration took over in the second half with New Zealand continuing to create chances but failing to retake the lead.
Glynn, Harrison and Stacey Michelsen all went close, but with the breakthrough refusing to drop-in, occasional American attacks started to create tension and sloppy errors.
Suddenly, there was relief as Michelsen deflected the ball home with 10 minutes remaining. But to New Zealand's horror, the umpire called for a referral and ruled the goal out for a high stick.
Again Michelsen came close but her bobbled shot wandered past the post, but finally, an Eshuis drag flick six minutes from time bagged three points which should have been wrapped up early.
New Zealand's crucial final pool game is against Germany on Monday, 7:30pm (NZT).