The Vantage Black Sticks are eyeing a podium place for the first time as they attempt to add the World Cup trophy to Commonwealth Games gold.
They’re in London for the 13th edition of the women’s World Cup, and will play Belgium in their opening game on July 23 at 6am NZ time, live on SKYTV.
The first World Cup for women was staged in 1974, although New Zealand didn’t make its debut until nearly a decade later, finishing 7th in 1983 in Kuala Lumpur. The best effort by a Black Sticks side was fourth place in Amstelveen in 1986. That team, captained by Mary Clinton and featuring a young Tina Bell-Kake, lost the bronze medal match to Canada.
The most recent World Cup, held in The Hague in 2014, is the closest the Black Sticks have come to a top four finish since 1986. New Zealand missed out on the semi-finals by finishing third in their pool, before going on to beat China 4-nil in the 5th place playoff.
Seven of the current squad – Olivia Merry, Sally Rutherford, Samantha Charlton, Liz Thompson, Rose Keddell, Stacey Michelsen and Anita McLaren – were part of that campaign. Merry, who was just 22 at the time, says it was an unforgettable experience, “I was pretty young and pretty new into the team at that point, so just the overwhelming factor of how many people were there sticks out. I think we played in crowds of over 15,000 in Holland – it’s a big tournament on a big scale.”
But aware of New Zealand’s history at the event both recent and past, Merry says they want to make a big impact in one of hockey’s biggest tournaments, “we’ve never quite got over that final hurdle at a World Cup and we’d love to this time around. I think we’ve got the teams and the skills to.”
Added to the challenge is the implementation of a new format. The winners from each pool advance directly to the quarter-finals, while the second and third placed teams will go into knockout crossover matches to determine the other four quarter-finalists.
The Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup starts at Lea Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre in London on Saturday July 21, with Spain to play Germany in the opening match.