Hockey: Black Sticks' medal hopes over

The New Zealand men's hockey team learned the hard way that hockey can be a game of inches, as their medal hopes at the Champions Trophy came to an end today.

The Black Sticks, who finished bottom of their pool and were forced to face world No3 Netherlands in the quarterfinals, went down 2-0 in Melbourne to be consigned to the classification games.

The Dutch scored a goal in each half and largely controlled the match while New Zealand's best two chances, both from penalty corners, went agonisingly wide of the target.

There is still plenty to play for but New Zealand's medal drought at a major international event - dating back to the gold-medal winning 1976 Olympic side - extended with a second straight tournament disappointment.

New coach Colin Batch, who took over from Shane McLeod after a ninth-place finish at the London Olympics, must now motivate his young side for Saturday's opening classification match against Germany, surprise losers against Pakistan.

The Black Sticks lost 3-2 to the Olympic champions in pool play, and they have to better that result to remain with a chance of finishing fifth and automatically qualifying for the next edition of the tournament in two years' time.

Even if that opportunity goes begging, the Champions Trophy hasn't been a complete loss for New Zealand. With a number of senior players making themselves unavailable for selection, the youngsters blooded by Batch have not been out of their depth on the international stage.

Goalkeeper Hamish McGregor, who came into the tournament with one cap to his name, again impressed and denied the Dutch a more comfortable victory.

As it was, the Black Sticks were left to regret a shooting radar which slightly misfired at a couple of key moments. Shea McAleese dragged his shot narrowly wide of the post from his side's first penalty corner in the opening minutes, before Jeroen Hertzberger showed more accuracy for the Netherlands and fired high past McGregor midway through the half.

The Dutch had a couple of decent chances from open play and earned their third penalty corner late in the half, but it was saved well by McGregor away to his right.

New Zealand were unable to consistently test the Dutch defence, before a penetrating run from Simon Child earned another penalty corner late in the half. A nice variation gave Nick Wilson some space but his bullet of a shot sailed just wide to leave New Zealand trailing at the half for a fourth straight match.

The Black Sticks' task became more difficult 10 minutes into the second spell when a rapid counter attack culminated in Billy Bakker tapping in, and a tiring New Zealand could find no way back into the match.

Netherlands 2 (Hertzberger, Bakker) New Zealand 0 HT: 1-0


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