Dejected Black Sticks vow to regroup for bronze

REGROUPING: New Zealand players Gemma Flynn and Kayla Sharland.
REGROUPING: New Zealand players Gemma Flynn and Kayla Sharland.

If you had offered the Black Sticks women an Olympic bronze medal a couple of weeks ago they would have flashed a smile and said thank you very much.

Now the question being asked is can this greatly improved team put their gut-wrenching semifinal loss to the Netherlands behind them and beat Great Britain tomorrow morning (2.30am NZ time) for third place.

The players say they can.

“It is hard at the moment to be proud but it is awesome how we've gone,” flying winger Anita Punt said.

“But we aren't finished yet, we want a medal. We are here to get a medal, that is what we are after. We just have to move on now and focus on the bronze medal match.” A lot of energy and emotion was spent against the Netherlands, which was decided on a penalty shootout.

Already a couple of players look to be tiring, but others such as Stacey Michelsen look as though they could play for another two weeks.

Coach Mark Hager has the challenge of lifting his side, not an easy task given the level of their dejection yesterday.

Still, Hager has turned water into wine here and you sense that he has a couple more tricks up his sleeve.

Captain Kayla Sharland is as determined as they come. She stares down the barrel and says an Olympic medal can still be won.

“We will be quite disappointed tonight and again in the morning, but when we head back to training it is about refocusing 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 right throughout this tournament, 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.”

The Black Sticks will never forget how close they came to making the Olympic final. They were up twice in regulation time against the Dutch only to finish at 2-2 and the scores stayed that way after golden goal extra time.

Unfortunately for the Black Sticks they hadn't been as thorough as they should have been and their lack of penalty shootout training left them exposed. Michelsen held her nerve to score but Sharland, Punt and Gemma Flynn all missed as the Dutch won 3-1.

“Unfortunately we kept going the same way and she [goalkeeper Joyce Sombroek] was watching what way we were going. We repeated the same three shots in a row,” an exasperated Sharland said.

Punt says composure is the key in the shootout. “Stacey Michelsen is a legend at it,” she said.

Fairfax Media