The Black Sticks women have made it two from two in their Olympic campaign with a 2-1 victory over Japan at Tokyo’s Oi Hockey Stadium.
The Kiwis had to come from behind against the home side late last night, but two second quarter penalty corner goals secured the victory and the all-important three points to sit at the top of Pool B with Australia.
The win against the Japanese came after Sunday’s 3-0 upset over world no. 2 Argentina in the Black Sticks opening match in Tokyo.
Youngster Hope Ralph was again on the scoresheet last night and Olivia Merry opened her Olympic scoring campaign with a strong penalty corner shot.
Black Sticks Head Coach Graham Shaw said it was important they backed up Sunday’s victory with a win against the 13th-ranked Japanese.
“In tournament hockey the most important thing is to get the three points. And I’m not sure rankings will be taken into consideration in Tokyo as much they would normally be in an Olympics.”
Shaw admitted it wasn’t the team’s finest performance.
“We made a lot of technical errors which was surprising as I thought we were technically very good against Argentina, whereas last night we looked a bit rushed on the ball and a little bit nervous at times.
“But I thought we responded well. You’re not going to play well in every single game. You’ve got to be able to win ugly and that’s what we did. We battled hard and got the result.”
Apart from the victory, the most pleasing aspect of the match for the Black Sticks was having captain Stacey Michelsen back on the pitch after injuring her hamstring in Perth last month. She was joined by vice-captain Sam Charlton who also missed the first match with a minor hip injury.
Shaw said it was a real positive to have Michelsen back after not playing for a month.
“She’s really only had two training sessions with the team. So we were really pleased to have a player of that calibre back in the team and the captain back on the field.”
After a scoreless first quarter, the Japanese took the lead three minutes after the break with a penalty corner goal to Shihori Oikawa that took a deflection on the way in.
The score shook the Kiwis into action and in the 26th minute Merry, the FIH Pro League’s top goalscorer for the past two years, fired in a penalty corner shot into the bottom right of the goal.
Two minutes later Merry was in the thick of it again, firing in a penalty corner shot that was blocked and then cracking the rebound across the circle to find Ralph on the right post to deflect in the second. That right post has paid dividends for Ralph after she slotted in one from the same position in the upset over Argentina.
At 2-1 was where the score remained until the final whistle despite the Japanese having six penalty corners in the match to New Zealand’s three. Strong defence led by goalkeeper Grace O’Hanlon was again the backbone of the Black Sticks victory.
New Zealand 2 (OIivia Merry 26 min, Hope Ralph 29 min).
Japan 1 (Shihori Oikawa 18 min). Halftime: 2-1.
New Zealand Women: Ella Gunson, Stacey Michelsen – captain (Northland); Stephanie Dickins (North Harbour); Katie Doar, Julia King, Grace O’Hanlon (GK), Elizabeth Thompson (Auckland); Tarryn Davey (Thames Valley); Samantha Charlton, Frances Davies, Rose Keddell (Tauranga); Hope Ralph (Taranaki); Olivia Shannon (Manawatu); Megan Hull (Wairarapa); Kelsey Smith (Nelson); Olivia Merry (Canterbury).
Next up the Black Sticks play Spain at 2.45pm (NZ time) tomorrow followed by a match with trans-Tasman rivals Australia in the early hours of Friday morning.
Shaw said they would take some learnings from the Japan game but needed to move on quickly and focus hard on Spain.
“We’re very aware of the threats Spain possess. They were World Cup bronze medallists in 2018 so they’re a very good side with players with multiple Olympics experience. They’re technically really good and very dangerous individually.”
Shaw was in no doubt how tough the match would be despite the Spanish being at the bottom of the Pool B table.
“They probably haven’t hit their straps at this tournament so far. Without any points on the board they’ll be desperate so we’ll have to match that intensity and desire to win the game.”
For the Olympic hockey schedule and results, click here.