Auckland, New Zealand: It was the dream fixture as host nation New Zealand took on the world number one side, the Netherlands in the Sentinel Homes Hockey World League Final. For the Black Sticks to go one better than their 2015 silver medal, they would have to do what no other team has managed in Auckland – score against the staunch Oranje defence.
In the end it was an ask too far but the packed stands at the Harbour Hockey Stadium in Auckland were treated to a match of sumptuous hockey skills and really tough, uncompromising, top quality sporting action.
The Netherlands have been a side apart at this event and in this final there was no let-up as the team in orange showed a glittering array of hockey skills to take the title for the second time and cement their position as the number one side in the world. During the course of the event, the Netherlands scored 18 goals and conceded none. For the Black Sticks, this has been a tournament that looked to be heading to disaster after some poor pool results but was saved by great performances in the quarter-finals and semi-finals.
New Zealand’s captain Stacey Michelsen said: “We had to be at our absolute best and I don’t think we came out playing at that level today. I think we can take a lot of positives from this tournament and we are so close to the top three teams. It has been a great opportunity to host a tournament here, it has been an honour to play in front of such an awesome crowd.”
Bronze medal match:
Tactical nous won out in the bronze medal match as Korea won their first Hockey World League Final medal with a composed victory over the world number two team, England. In the opening quarter of the bronze medal defence, Korea continued to surprise as they defied their status as lowest-ranked team at the tournament to take the lead against England.
Korea’s goal came from a well-worked penalty corner variation. From the trap at the top of the circle, the ball was slipped left and Kim Jongeun was able to rip the ball into the corner of Maddie Hinch’s goal. England also lost their referral early in the game as they incorrectly questioned the goal.
For a team that had played the Netherlands in the semi-final only 24 hours earlier, Korea were playing with much energy in this game. At the same time, England were looking just seconds off the pace.
With the first quarter well underway, England won a penalty corner after a surging run from Lily Owsley. The shot was taken by Laura Unsworth but Sophie Bray’s deflection bounced away off the post.
England continued to probe the Korea defence – Owsley had a number of strong runs along the right and Sophie Bray made a run down the left but Korea’s centre held firm and the Asia team were happy to let England hold possession in the non-danger areas of the pitch.
As the half came to an end, England left the pitch wondering what it would take to break down the Korea defence. As Sarah Haycroft summed up as she left the pitch, “We have to create space and play with patience.”
In the second half, England immediately went on the attack. Erica Saunders made a run into the circle but was unable to find a teammate as Korea’s defence held firm. This was symptomatic of the whole team, a busy build-up but no end result.
With seven minutes left on the clock, England were camped in the Korea half but with no reward. A few minutes later head coach Danny Kerry removed his goalkeeper from the pitch to give the team a field player advantage. They were further helped when Park Seunga was given a yellow card.
It was a frantic last two minutes as England surged forward against the 10-woman defence. Hollie Pearne-Webb found herself in a rare shooting position as all 11 England players went on the attack. Her shot flew harmlessly through the air past the goal and Korea lifted their arms in celebration as they realised that they had won a major global medal for the first time this century.
Captain of Korea, Kim Youngran, said: “This is the highest finish in an international tournament for us. It was an amazing match and I am pleased with how our team did. It was nerve-wracking but we didn’t have time to really think about it during the game. We got together and worked together and that led to our success.”
England’s captain Alex Danson contained her frustration as she said: “It was a very tight game and we showed a lot of grit and determination but there are some little details we need to work on, we learnt a lot today. Congratulations to Korea, they got a goal early and then kept us out.”
Final: Netherlands 3, New Zealand 0
Bronze Medal Match: Korea 1, England 0