Dutch semi-final 'new challenge' for Black Sticks
New Zealand women's hockey coach Mark Hager admits his side won't be thinking about revenge when they face the Netherlands in the semi-final of their World League tournament in Rotterdam tomorrow morning (NZT).
The Black Sticks overcame a plucky Japanese side 3-1 in their crossover quarter-final game yesterday, to set up a tantalising rematch with the Dutch, who are the top ranked women's side in the world.
When the two sides last met at the London Olympics, the Netherlands prevailed in a semi-final shootout thriller, after the game was tied 2-all after extra-time.
Hager was downplaying the redemption factor leading into the semi-final clash, and said his side would be treating it as a fresh challenge.
"I don't ever get revenge for a loss, particularly at the Olympic Games. It's in the past, you can't really get that sort of revenge. You're not going to win a medal, even if we beat them," he said.
"We're looking at it as a new game. We've got a new list, they've got a new list. It's about making sure we do everything properly and give ourselves the best opportunity to come away with a victory."
The Netherlands thumped India 8-1 in their crossover quarter-final yesterday, and Hager acknowledged his side would have to be at the top of their game to beat the Dutch on their home turf.
"They've got 10 or 11 gold medalist Olympians still. They've got Maartje Paumen, their dragflicker. She's a quality corner specialist. We've got to be making sure we don't concede too many corners and give her too many opportunities, or she will punish you."
The win means New Zealand have qualified for the World League Final tournament in December in Argentina. A top-three place in Rotterdam will get them to next year's World Cup.
Japan, who are ranked ninth in the world, took a shock 1-0 lead, two minutes into yesterday's game, when Sam Charlton tried to clear the ball, but deflected it into her own net. New Zealand made most of the play in the first half, with eight shots on goal - including four penalty corners - to Japan's one, but they could not find breach Japan's staunch defence.
In the second half, their fifth penalty corner of the game paid off when Krystal Forgesson, on a tight angle, took a cracking reverse shot, and found the back of the net.
Anita Punt then scored off New Zealand's sixth penalty corner, in the 54th minute, flicking the ball high over the keeper's head to put the Black Sticks in the lead for the first time in the game.
With the end of the game in sight, the score stretched to 3-1 from the eighth penalty corner when Punt again flicked it high and the second deflection fell to Charlotte Harrison, who swept it home.
Hager always expected Japan to be a tough side to wear down, and said it was a matter of being patient and taking advantage of their penalty corner attempts, and other chances in front of goal.
"Apart from the own goal, we conceded in the first minute or so, we dominated the game. We just weren't clinical in the attacking third in the first half," Hager said.
"The biggest difference in the second half was, we put away our penalty corners. If you do that, you give yourself a really good chance."