Kiwi men claim late winner to keep quarterfinal hopes alive

Wellington striker Jacob Smith has fired in a late winner to keep the New Zealand men’s hockey team’s Olympic quarterfinal hopes very much alive.

The Kiwis grabbed a late 4-3 victory over Spain last night in a thrilling final quarter in the second Pool A match for both sides at Tokyo’s Oi Hockey Stadium.

After a disappointing 3-2 loss to India on Saturday, the Kiwis knew they needed some points from the Spanish game to stay in the hunt for a quarterfinals spot. Late goals from Kane Russell and then the Smith winner with just three minutes left on the clock gave the Kiwis the much-needed victory.

Smith said the team had treated the game like a must-win play-off match.

“It felt like a knock-out game after being disappointed with our first game against India. We felt like we played well and deserved more (against India) so we did need the points.

“We’re just really happy to get that first win of the tournament.”

He added that the match-winning goal certainly wasn’t one for the highlights reel.

“Reflecting on the goal, it definitely wasn’t the prettiest I’ve ever scored but quite possibly is the most important of my career so far. It was a team goal … definitely cool to be on the end of it but the result was the most important part.”

New Zealand strengthened their attack for their second match with North Harbour striker George Muir coming into the match day 16 for Dylan Thomas.

The Kiwis opened the scoring with Stephen Jenness continuing his goal-scoring form from Saturday’s match to claim the first goal just before the quarter break. The Wellington striker took the ball at speed into the circle, beat a defender and fired the ball into the left of the net to give the Kiwis the lead.

Spain equalised off a loose rebound in the 26th minute but New Zealand skipper Blair Tarrant instantly restored the lead as he picked up the scraps from a Russell penalty corner drag flick.

The Kiwis went into the break 2-1 ahead but their European opponents were quick to equalise in the third quarter and then take the lead through two penalty corner goals.

Minutes into the nail-biting final quarter, Russell tied up the match with his trademark drag flick penalty corner going low and hard into the right-hand corner.

With just three minutes left on the clock it was the Kiwis strikers’ moment to shine, with three-time Olympian Nick Wilson showing patience on the baseline to work the ball goalward where Smith reacted swiftly to pounce on the loose ball and pop in the match winner.

New Zealand will also be pleased with their defensive efforts, restricting the Spaniards to just one field goal from eight attempts and absorbing sustained periods of pressure.

New Zealand 4 (Stephen Jenness 14 min, Blair Tarrant 27 min, Kane Russell 48 min, Jacob Smith 57 min)
Spain 3 (Enrique Gonzalez 26 min, Pau Quemadu 31 min, Marc Bolto 39 min)
Halftime: 2-1 New Zealand.

New Zealand Men: Steve Edwards, George Muir (North Harbour); Leon Hayward (GK), Jared Panchia (Auckland); Nic Woods (Waikato); Sean Findlay, Shea McAleese (Hawke’s Bay); Nick Wilson (Manawatu); Stephen Jenness, Dane Lett, Jacob Smith (Wellington); Sam Lane (Canterbury); Hugo Inglis, Nick Ross, Kane Russell, Blair Tarrant – captain (Otago).

Next up the New Zealand men face the home side Japan at 2.45pm (NZ time) tomorrow followed by a clash with world no.2 Australia in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Smith says Japan at home will be a different beast altogether to the team they beat convincingly in a series in New Zealand in 2019.

“They’re a team that’s been together for the last eight years preparing for this tournament, so they will be a really tough prospect in their conditions and in their home stadium.”

“They’ll be fast, counter-attack oriented and they’ll take a few risks to score. They also throw a few high balls from back to front so our defensive structures will have to be really solid.”

  • July 25th, 2021 in
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