Black Sticks lose semifinal thriller to Netherlands
Sport can be cruel, just ask the Black Sticks women.
This morning in London their dream of an Olympic gold medal came to an end in a semifinal but not before they participated in the game of the tournament against the undisputed queen's of the turf the Netherlands.
Kayla Sharland's girls eventually died 3-1 in a penalty shoot out, an outcome they struggled to absorb after twice leading in regulation time.
The scores were locked 2-2 after extra time, necessitating a dramatic shoot-out where the shooter goes one-on-one from 25m against the goalie and a stopwatch with eight seconds on it.
Sadly the Black Sticks went to pieces with Sharland, Gemma Flynn and Anita Punt all denied in the same fashion, heading left away from goal.
Coach Mark Hager took the blame, saying they were under-prepared for such a scenario.
"I don't think we had practised it enough and that is my fault," Hager said
"We practise it, but not enough. We've never been in a final when we've had to do it.
"Holland have played two or three finals where they had to be in a shoot out. It is very difficult to replicate that environment so they probably have the experience over us on that."
In previous Olympic and Commonwealth Games, penalty strokes were used to find a winner but the new tiebreaker system has been in place internationally since last year's Champions Trophy so was not foreign to the Black Sticks.
After a sombre lap of the turf, the Black Sticks players filed down the tunnel clearly shattered they were now reduced to the bronze medal match on Friday.
Perhaps in a sign how ill-prepared they were for the shootout, Punt revealed she was initially unaware she was in the chosen five.
"I didn't get the call till I went out and I said "who is the fifth one" and they said "you"," Punt said.
"Unfortunately I couldn't finish it. We seem to lose in all those situations now, so we are getting used to it," Punt said in reference to their loss to Australia on strokes in the final of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
Cool heads were certainly required with a near capacity crowd of 16,000 in the house, many of them dressed in orange but also a healthy contingent of Kiwis including most of the New Zealand rowing squad.
The only successful strike by a Black Stick in the shoot-out came from Stacey Michelsen, who also had a storming game.
Black Sticks goalkeeper Bianca Russell has been in top form but she could not produce any more miracles.
"The Dutch just had the composure in the big moments," she said.
"I am proud of my girls. They didn't leave anything in the tank.
"When we started this tournament we would've been thrilled to bits with any medal so we have to keep everything in perspective now.
"Of course we are disappointed, we were so close to the shiny ones but any extra jewellery going home is good by me. We'll give it a crack."
The Black Sticks will play Great Britain in the bronze medal match at 2.30am on Saturday (NZ time). Argentina eliminated the hosts 2-1 in the other semifinal.
Whether they can lift, remains to be seen, though Sharland vowed they would.
"We will be quite disappointed tonight and again in the morning but when we head back to training it is about re-focusing for the next match," Sharland said.
"We have come a long way in this tournament and we don't want to leave empty-handed now. We've pushed hard, it's about a never say die attitude, that is something we have installed in this group and if we run, run, run and chase, chase, chase I think we can get there."
Sharland was not far behind Michelsen as New Zealand's best player. She started with a bang, scoring from a penalty corner in the eight minute. Dutch captain Maartje Paumen equalised from a penalty corner in the 31st minute. The Black Sticks led again after Krystal Forgesson scored in the 49th minute only for Paumen to produce an unstoppable penalty corner with 17 minutes remaining.
What happened after that nearly went down in women's hockey folklore.