Close contest for NZ against France

Kane Russell, of New Zealand, celebrates with team mates after scoring his side’s first goal...
Kane Russell, of New Zealand, celebrates with team mates after scoring his side’s first goal during yesterday’s World Cup match against France at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, India. Photo: Getty Images
The Black Sticks won their opening game at the World Cup in India yesterday, with a tight 2-1 victory over France.

The last time the sides met the game ended in a 3-3 draw, so it was going to be an even contest.

The Black Sticks had some early chances which saw a few crash balls into the circle nearly go past the French goalkeeper. Despite opportunities for both sides, the first quarter remained scoreless.

In the second minute of the second quarter, Southern’s Kane Russell picked up a ball wide and then drove along the baseline with some great speed and finished it off by firing  a reverse shot past the French goalkeeper to give his side the lead.

In the remainder of the second quarter  both teams have several opportunities but the New Zealanders went into the halftime break with the single-goal advantage.

The arm-wrestle continued in the third quarter as both sides struggled to construct  opportunities. France eventually earned the first penalty corner of the match but Black Sticks goalkeeper Richard Joyce saved the drag flick to keep his side ahead.

France went on attack in the start of the fourth quarter with some great speed and accuracy and created some fantastic opportunities which saw it test Joyce out with several shots.

The Black Sticks then blew the game open when Nic Woods won a ball in the middle of the field and counter-attacked by throwing an overhead on the move to Stephen Jenness, who received the ball  quickly and powered it  past the French goalkeeper.

That goal gave the Black Sticks a cushion heading into the final three minutes of the game. France got one back when Victor Charlet flicked a penalty corner high into the goal but the Black Sticks held firm to secure a much-needed three points.

Jenness said the side started really well and held strong.

"France kept putting us under a lot of pressure but we held firm and made the most of our opportunities," Jenness said.

Black Sticks coach Darren Smith said it was a tight game.

"We started the game very well creating three or four good opportunities and had intent to our play," he said.

"We got a bit conservative in the second half. In the end it is great to get the three points which was built on a solid defensive effort.

"We now look forward to the Olympic champions Argentina, where we expect an exciting game."

The match against Argentina is set for early Tuesday.

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