New Zealand determined to capitalise on lifeline
RIO DE JANEIRO – New Zealand slipped into the men’s Olympic hockey tournament by the back door but now they are here they plan to take full advantage of the opportunity, according to coach Colin Batch.
The “Black Sticks” initially failed to qualify but, as the highest-placed unqualified team, got a belated invite in December after South Africa decided against sending a team.
“We did have quite a rocky road to get here,” Batch told reporters on Tuesday. “We didn’t qualify outright, we know that. We’ve been given a lifeline and the guys are really gelling well together. We will approach the tournament with nothing to lose.
“There’s a different mindset with our group. It has changed significantly over the last six or seven months and I think that might be an advantage for us.
“Opposition teams that have been scouting… well we are different and we’ve got some different players involved with our group. So I see that as an advantage for us.”
Captain Simon Child was also keen to make use of that second chance, saying: “We just want to make the most of the opportunity we’ve been given.
“We were very unlucky not to qualify directly, but at the same time we were very fortunate to get a spot here.
“We’ve definitely got a point to prove and we want to show, not just the New Zealand public, but the other teams that we deserve to be here.”
New Zealand will get an immediate chance to check their progress as they open their campaign on Saturday against world number one-ranked Australia, perennial semi-finalists and champions in 2004.
“We’re very familiar with the Aussie team and one of their strategies is to put you under a lot of pressure in the first quarter,” said Child.
“So we know that if we can get through the first quarter we know we’ll be right in there towards the back end of the game.
“They’re a very good team and the best way to combat them is to fight fire with fire.”
New Zealand won the gold in 1976, when they beat Australia in the final, but it has been pretty thin pickings since then, with a best finish of sixth in 2004.
Child, however, thinks the change to the tournament format gives them more of a chance than in previous years where the top two in each pool advanced to the semi-finals. This year the top four in each group go into the quarter-finals.
“The new format certainly works in our favour,” said Child.
“Typically, if you look at the last few Olympics, we’ve finished third, fourth or fifth in our pool which meant we were playing in the classification games. But this time around it means we could get a crack at the knockout stages.
“We get through pool play, get as many points as we can, get into the knockout stages. Ideally look to avoid the likes of Germany and Holland in the crossover, but certainly back ourselves against either of those teams. We’d love to play India or Argentina or Ireland in that quarter-final.” -Reuters