Trans-Tasman rivalry alive in hockey quarters

Published 15 August 2016 (AEDT)

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 13: Madonna Blyth of Australlia moves past Minami Shimizu (L) and Motomi Kawamura during the Women's Pool B hockey match between Australia and Japan on Day 8 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Hockey Centre on August 13, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. © 2016 Getty Images

HOCKEY: Australia’s women’s hockey team will meet New Zealand in arguably the most important meeting between the pair in their rich competitive history.

While Australia dominates the all-time head-to-head record, more recent meetings have been hotly contested with little to separate the two teams ranked third and fourth respectively in hockey’s global rankings.

The last two Oceania Cup continental championships have been decided with a shoot-out, Australia coming out on top by one on each occasion.

When they met at the 2014 World Cup in The Hague in their final pool fixture, the winner was guaranteed a semi-final place. As it was, the exciting but ultimately goalless draw that followed suited Australia best.

In Rio, the scenario is similar but the stakes are higher. In hockey’s new knock-out quarter-finals, it’s winner takes all. The victor will be guaranteed a shot at the medals while for the loser, their Olympic dream ends. With the introduction of the quarter-finals there are no classification matches.

Australia’s women are seeking a first Olympic semi-final appearance since the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Three consecutive fifth place finishes in Athens, Beijing and London have left this young side hungry for a shot at the silverware.

Aussie forward Mariah Williams is one such young athlete backing her team to prevail in an undoubtedly close contest. So far in 2016, each side has won two of their four meetings.

“It’s always tight up against New Zealand because they’re so close to our country,” said Williams.

“They’re a pretty quick team but we’re quicker and I feel like we’re more skilful, so if we stick to our processes I’m sure we can put them under.”

Australia’s coach Adam Commens is leading the team in his final games. He is hopeful he’ll have three more matches at the helm before he relocates to Belgium, but acknowledges the quarter-final match-up with New Zealand will see a medal hopeful bowing out early.

“New Zealand’s a team that would have been expecting to be in the medal rounds, as we would have,” said Commens.

“It’s going to be a tough match and one of the medal favourites will be going out in the quarter-finals.

“We know New Zealand very well. We know how we need to play to get the result and we’re confident if we execute our game plan that’s what we will be able to do.”

Australia found themselves finishing in third place in their pool after early defeats to Great Britain and USA but Commens is adamant that his side has played well and that the quarter-final format has reduced the importance of starting all guns blazing.

“When you know there are quarter-finals you set up your team a little bit differently and you try and build through the tournament.

“Of course, you’re trying to win but these games are not do-or-die early on, and what you’re trying to do is try and develop your group through the tournament.”

Australia’s quarter-final against New Zealand takes place at 10am on Monday (11pm AEST). The winner will face the winner from the match between Great Britain and Spain.

Lawrence West
olympics.com.au

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