Black Sticks goalkeeper Grace O’Hanlon is hoping their strikers will gain some real confidence from today’s final pool match against China.
O’Hanlon, who has been at the core of a strong Kiwi defensive unit in Tokyo with just four goals conceded, hopes today’s game is a chance to foster belief up front.
“I think it’ll be a good opportunity for our strikers to gain some real confidence. If we can slot in a few and start connecting a little better that will really foster belief.”
“We just want to watch and clap at the back,” she says jokingly.
O’Hanlon says the team needs to build sustained pressure.
“We lose as a team, we win as a team, we attack as a team and we defend as a team. We’ve had to do a lot of defending, but as a team it’s about creating those opportunities up front and supporting each other. We really need to have that sustained pressure against China.”
China currently sit outside the top four in Pool B, so will need to topple the third-placed Kiwis by at least five goals to overtake them on the table.
“China are strong and skilful, and they’re still in this competition. It’s a must-win for them so they’ll come at us with all guns blazing and all swords out.”
“For us it’s important we set ourselves up mentally for what’s to come.”
Today’s game is the fifth in a week for the Black Sticks but O’Hanlon feels they couldn’t be better prepared.
“Tournament hockey is always going to grind you down a bit but we’re very well prepared. All the things we did in the build-up are paying dividends now and we’re very grateful for that.”
“It is hot, it’s actually unbearable at times but we’re probably the best prepared out of any teams I’ve seen.”
As the tournament moves into the business end with shootouts deciding any drawn matches, O’Hanlon feels the Black Sticks are now in a much better headspace about shootouts.
“They’re a challenge we once shied away from, and now given our recent performance we’d probably rise to them.”