Black Sticks men lose to Germany
New Zealand dreams of recording a historic Champions Trophy victory over Olympic gold medallists Germany were wrecked by a stunning six-goal second half scoring blitz by the leading men's hockey nation today.
Leading 2-0 at halftime of their classification match at Melbourne's State Hockey and Netball Centre the Black Sticks were on track to win their first game at the tournament and possibly qualify for the next edition automatically by finishing fifth.
But 35 minutes later they were headed for the 7th v 8th last-place play-off with England, the unfortunate side effect of a 6-4 defeat to a German side rebuilding in anticipation of a third straight Olympic Games title at Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
On the strength of today's game 18-year-old Jan Christopher Ruehr should feature prominently in Brazil - the forward twice left the Black Sticks defenders floundering in his wake as he announced his arrival on the international scene with two superb solo goals.
A weaving run down the right flank set the stage for a rasping shot past Hamish McGregor to put the Germans up 5-3; he then put the result beyond doubt after one last New Zealand rally when he held off three defenders during a breakout that culminated in the teenager slotting into an open goal.
The Black Sticks replaced McGregor with an extra outfield player with three minutes remaining in a bold bid to equalise and although the rookie goalkeeper was missing Ruehr still had plenty of work to do before wheeling away to celebrate his double.
New Zealand's penalty corner conversion rate had been a concern in the absence of drag flick specialists Andy Hayward and Richard Petherick but the Black Sticks made a dramatic improvement in that facet with three of their goal stemming from the set piece.
Phil Burrows was perfectly positioned to give the Kiwis a deserved lead in the seventh minute via a penalty corner when his reverse stick swipe hit the target moments after the ball cannoned off the cage.
An unmarked Nick Wilson then directed a searing Simon Child cross past Nicolas Jacobi 15 minutes before halftime, an advantage that raised prospects of New Zealand's first Champions Trophy triumph over the Germans in seven attempts.
However, the Germans were level eight minutes after the resumption thanks to quick fire field goals by Marco Miltkau and Mats Grambusch.
New Zealand regained the lead through a perfectly worked penalty corner when Stephen Jenness cracked the ball home after deceptive nudges by Shea McAleese and Nick Wilson at the top of the circle.
Their joy was short-lived though as Germany equalised from a penalty corner a minute later when Tobias Matania beat McGregor's right hand padding.
Miltkau's second put the Germans in front for the first time at 4-3 and Ruehr then made his first incision before Nick Haig benefited from some more trickery from a penalty corner to sweep the ball high into the net with eight minutes remaining.
Germany shaded New Zealand 3-2 in pool play and new head coach Colin Batch was again frustrated after the Black Sticks missed another opportunity to down the European powerhouse.
"It's very disappointing that we didn't play like we should've in the second half and we just let the Germans do what they wanted to," the Australian said.
"After all our hard work, five minutes into the second half we were two-all, so that part of it wasn't good enough and we need to improve in that area."
Despite the game being played in 35degC heat Batch said fatigue was no excuse for the Black Sticks poor second half.
"It was purely mental. We weren't prepared for the second half, we gave the ball away too much and let them run at us."
New Zealand were fourth at last year's Champions Trophy in Auckland, a position the new-look squad were at long odds to emulate even before losses to Germany (twice), India and the Netherlands.
They also drew 1-1 with England in their final pool game.
Australia are seeking their fifth successive title against the Netherlands tomorrow, Pakistan and India meet in the bronze medal play-off while Belgium or Germany can qualify for the 2014 event in Argentina by grabbing fifth.
Germany 6 (Marco Miltkau 2, Jan Christopher Ruehr 2, Mats Grambusch, Tobias Matania)
New Zealand 4 (Phil Burrows, Nick Wilson, Stephen Jenness, Nick Haig)