'In the Spotlight' is a series that will profile each of the 24 participating teams at the London Olympic Games. It will provide a glimpse of what to expect as each squad begins its London quest. Between now and the Olympic opening ceremony a new team will be featured every 2-3 days. Today we feature the men's national team of New Zealand.
The New Zealand men are ranked seventh in the world with 1395 points. Their only Olympic medal was gold in 1976 in Montreal. Beyond the Olympic gold, the Black Sticks have never won a medal in an FIH World Cup or FIH Champions Trophy. At 2011’s Champions Trophy in Auckland they equalled their best CT result finishing fourth on home turf in North Harbour. At the inaugural CT in 1978 New Zealand also finished fourth (out of five).
The Road to London:
New Zealand qualified as runner-up of the 2011 Oceania Cup held in Hobart, Australia. The Blacks Sticks played three matches against Australia, winning the first match 3-0 and drawing 3-3 in the second. The Kookaburras had to win the third match by at least four goals to still claim the series. This was what Australia did, defeating New Zealand 6-1 in the last match to take the Oceania Cup.
Players to Watch:
Team-captain Dean Couzins, Ryan Archibald and Phil Burrows are the most experienced players with more than 250 caps each. Defender Blair Hopping is just one off that mark with 249 international matches. Captain and 31-year-old Couzins leads the defence. Midfielder Archibald has spent much of his hockey career playing for HC Rotterdam in the Dutch Hoofdklasse. World-class striker and former team-captain Burrows is able to score from the most unlikely spots and he has a deadly reverse strike. He is now showing his attacking versatility by filling a midfield role.
Shane McLeod has led the Black Sticks since January 2007. During his tenure, the team won the 2009 Champions Challenge in Salta and placed fourth at the 2011 Champions Trophy in Auckland. The 2011 Oceania Cup win against Australia was the first win against their rivals since 1999. The 42-year-old was head coach of the Belgian women from 2002-2006. MacLeod was a New Zealand international himself, playing for the Black Sticks from 1995-1997.
New Zealand sends an experienced team to London including four, three-time Olympians and nine players at their second Olympics. The Black Sticks most recently surprised by winning the Azlan Shah Cup title in Malaysia. McLeod said: “It became a luxury problem with so many players performing at the top of their game in Malaysia. In the end it came down to getting the balance right in the midfield and the flexibility of players to slot into a number of positions.”
Although New Zealand is stronger each year, they still struggle crack the podium. At the recent Champions Trophy, they lost to all of the top three nations, Australia, Germany and the Netherlands. A logistical problem for the team is the fact that the Black Stick players are spread between Europe and Oceania making it tough to train and play together.
Reaching the Semi Finals would be a big success for the Black Sticks who have to finish in the top two in Pool B with Germany, The Netherlands, Korea, Belgium and India. Three New Zealanders (Child, Edwards, Wilson) should know the Dutch opponents very well as they play club hockey for HC Rotterdam in the Dutch Hoofdklasse. The team in London is probably the most experienced squad New Zealand has ever sent to the Olympics, and it is likely the last chance for several Black Sticks to win an Olympic medal.
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