Black Sticks eye historic win over the Dutch
Emily Naylor has chalked up 200 caps for the Black Sticks and now she has her eye on an Olympic hockey medal.
The Manawatu player and her Black Sticks team-mates will need to be at their very best when they tackle the Netherlands tomorrow morning (2.30am) in the first semi-final.
Naylor admits as much and to some nerves but she believes they have nothing to lose against the world No 1.
"It's going to be a tough challenge but it's also very exciting," she said.
"I'll get nervous, especially playing the Dutch, but we are playing well."
The Black Sticks were granted a rare sleep-in yesterday morning and Naylor admitted to dreaming she was in an Olympic semi-final. There was no clue to the result but recent history certainly favours the Dutch.
Of the last five games, the Dutch have won four and there was a scoreless draw at the Champions Trophy last year. The last time the two sides met was at the Champions Trophy in Argentina in February when the Dutch won 3-0.
"The way we are playing and the fact that it is an Olympic semi-final means we can rise to the occasion," she said.
The Black Sticks finished second in Pool B behind Argentina, while the Netherlands topped Pool A with five from five, although they had to come from behind to beat group runner-up Great Britain 2-1 yesterday.
Naylor has had a mixed tournament. She was supposed to play her 200th game against Argentina but a recurring back problem, diagnosed as a bulging disc, meant she had to sit out that game and achieve the milestone two days later in the 3-2 win against the United States.
"I got all these messages from people back home saying 'good luck' for 200 and I knew I wasn't playing, which was a bit sad," Naylor said.
"Playing 200 games is pretty special, especially when it happens at an Olympics.
"It is the first milestone I've had, that we have gone on to win the game."
Naylor is hitting top form in her deep defensive role. The Black Sticks' defence is certainly one of the reasons they are where they are, but it remains to be seen whether they can brush up on their finishing at the attacking end.
The Netherlands pose threats all over the turf, but they are lethal up front and have the undisputed queen of the penalty corner drag flick in Maartje Paumen.
The strength of the Black Sticks is their resilience, fitness and the form of some key players.
None more so than goalkeeper Bianca Russell, who has made any number of clutch saves. Kayla Sharland is leading by example and Clarissa Eshuis has struck twice from penalty corners.
Naylor has been to two previous Olympics, where the Black Sticks finished sixth in Athens and 12th and last in Beijing. Sharland, Gemma Flynn and Krystal Forgesson were also in Beijing and though they have righted that nightmare they thirst for more.
"We are not content to finish fourth, we are aiming for gold. It's anybody's now," Naylor said.
Last five games versus the Netherlands:
lost 4-0, Rabo Trophy, Netherlands, June 2010
lost 3-1, Champions Trophy, England, July 2010
lost 3-7, World Cup, Argentina, September 2010
drew 0-0, Champions Trophy, Netherlands, July 2011
lost 3-0, Champions Trophy, Argentina, February 2012-08-06