Black Sticks lose in shootout
HOW do you get back up from that to play a bronze medal match? This could be the toughest two days of Mark Hager's coaching career.
The Black Sticks put in an astonishing display of gutsy, foot-to-the-floor hockey to push the Netherlands, the No 1-ranked side in the world, to the brink in their semifinal this morning - the team eventually going down 3-1 in a shootout after the scores were level at 2-2 after extra time.
Twice the Black Sticks held the lead against a team they have never beaten at a major tournament. Twice they refused to buckle when the Dutch equalised and, at times, threatened to impose their technical superiority on the game.
However, in the shootout, that technical adroitness favoured the woman in oranje. New Zealand could only score once, through the excellent Stacey Michelsen. Tellingly, she was the only player to go to her forehand as Kayla Sharland, Gemma Flynn and finally Anita Punt faked on to their backhand and played into the strength of the Dutch keeper.
When Ellen Hoog put the shootout beyond reach - it would be the only time she would hurt New Zealand in this game - the New Zealanders looked shell-shocked.
Punt especially needed comforting, but the truth is she had nothing to be ashamed of. Nobody wearing black did.
It was a brave effort from start to finish and with a little more luck towards the end of regulation time could have been an historic victory. Nobody typified the courage more than Katie Glynn. The 23-year-old striker was back helping out in defence when she wore the stick of Hoog across the back of her head. It was not intentional but it looked eerily like a seal clubbing.
She crashed to the turf in agony and was escorted off while officials mopped the blood off the turf. Later in the second half she returned, a la Bert Sutcliffe at Ellis Park in 1953, head encased in a bandage to play her part.
She even had a chance to win it late with a penalty corner, but Joyce Sombroek in the Dutch goal saved comfortably.
New Zealand scored early through Sharland from a penalty corner before her rival captain, the classy Maartje Paumen returned serve. Krystal Forgesson put the finishing touches on a classy breakout in the second half, before Paumen again replied with an unstoppable drag-flick.
This epic battle became a test of nerves as much as it did skills.
Led magnificently by Sharland, New Zealand did not look like buckling...Until that cruel shootout.