Blenheim’s first taste of international hockey for 57 years did not disappoint as the New Zealand women’s team took their match with Argentina down to the final seconds before falling short 2-1 on Saturday.
The Black Sticks trailed 2-0 at halftime in the first match of a four-test series, and first of two matches at College Park. They picked up a goal with 4:30 to play in the final period to setup a a frantic finish where they turned up the heat but were ultimately denied an equaliser.
After an even start, both sides were awarded penalty corners midway through the first quarter. New Zealand’s shot was blocked by outstanding Argentinian goalkeeper Maria Belen Succi, before the tourists were more clinical in their attempt moments later, Victoria Zuloaga flicking in from deep in the circle.
The second quarter saw Argentina applying pressure on the Kiwi defence, holding possession and forcing defenders Liz Thompson and Natasha Fitzsimons to come up with some key stops.
The hosts fought back with several attacking raids of their own shortly before the close of the half. Rose Keddell’s brilliant searching run, where she beat several defenders, was snuffed out by the solid Argentina defence – led by 244-match veteran Noel Barrioneuvo.
New Zealand looked to have finally cracked the code moments later when Sam Charlton set up Sophie Cocks on the stroke of halftime, only for the ball to be ruled as out just before Charlton’s pass.
That would have tied the scores, but instead New Zealand went further behind five minutes after play resumed, Maria Jose Granatto finishing off a slick build-up by the South Americas. New Zealand created a few opportunities in the Argentinian circle, but the defence of the visitors had an answer until the final quarter surge from the Black Sticks.
A Shiloh Gloyn deflection off a Charlton shot gave the Kiwis hope but Argentina controlled possession for the next two minutes. The Black Sticks claimed the ball with 2:30 remaining and immediately went onto attack.
Charlotte Harrison had the best chance to equalise, but the returning attacker could not get decent contact from close range. New Zealand were not deterred though, throwing everything at the visitors until the final whistle went as players scrambled for the ball in Argentina’s goal mouth.
The thrilling finish kept a crowd of around 1200 on edge, setting up another showdown in Blenheim on Sunday afternoon before the series heads to Nelson and then Christchurch.
Black Sticks head coach Mark Hager is looking for major improvement. “We were quite poor … our basics were probably some of the worst basics I have seen from us in a long long time. Our ability to trap the ball dead, pass from A to B, let us down. We weren’t able to string passes together for long periods. They made us look silly with their ball control … we were giving away too many easy free hits and our outletting was poor.
“Maybe it was the pressure of the occasion, and the level of the Argentinians. We have just come off the NHL, which is a level lower than internationals, so a few of our players I didn’t think raised themselves to that level. I hope we can handle the ball better tomorrow,” addded Hager.