The Vantage Black Sticks Men have gone down fighting in their final match against Japan, losing 1-0 at Kawasaki Juko Stadium, in Maibara City, Gifu, Japan.
The injury depleted Kiwi side played solidly in the first quarter, though taking some time to hit their straps, matching the home team for passion and endeavour, with the game being played in 30 degree heat.
The Kiwis took it up a notch with a wealth of possession in the second quarter and more shots on goal with five to Japan’s one, but failed to convert.
The deadlock was broken in the 24th minute, when Japan were awarded a penalty stroke, after a New Zealand infringement. Kenji Kitazato converted past Black Sticks goalkeeper George Enersen to see Japan ahead 1-0 going into the half time break.
The third quarter was a back and forth tussle with Japan slowly gaining some ascendancy, with neither side being able to create meaningful chances in the circle.
With the score still 1-0 in Japan’s favour, the Vantage Black Sticks poured on the pressure in the fourth quarter, with repeated forays into the Japanese circle, looking for the equaliser.
It was largely one way traffic as the clock ran down, but New Zealand’s efforts became unstuck when, with seven minutes to go, the Black Sticks lost Nick Woods (green) and captain Blair Tarrant (yellow) to take the side down to 10 men.
It was an uphill battle from there, with the home side running out winners 1-0 on the night. This leaves the Vantage Black Sticks with a 1-1-2 record on this tour, but with a lot of learning and new talent blooded in the process, toward the long term goal of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
For coach Darren Smith it was a somewhat frustrating game as the Black Sticks couldn’t quite get there.
“We started a bit slow today and took until the second quarter to get our standards up. By this stage we were 1-0 down. In the second half we pushed hard at them but couldn’t convert despite several attempts.
“Tomorrow we face a high quality German team and we look forward to that challenge”.
The Vantage Black Sticks Men play their final match on Japanese soil Saturday night at 9pm NZ time, when they take on Germany in Gifu. They then depart for a three game series in Bangalore, India, in preparation for the Odisha Men’s World Cup later in the year.
VANTAGE BLACK STICKS: 0
JAPAN: 1 (Kenji Kitazato 24′)
Half Time: Japan 1:0