Amsterdam — New Zealand charged, pounced and deflected their way to a cross-over berth in the Pool which will now go to the wire for England. David Ralph’s side were on top for large swathes, countering, moving intelligently and forcing countless PCs. Somehow they came out 3-1 losers. It’s China or bust now.
England’s group stage history in major competitions in the Netherlands hasn’t been kind. In two previous Euros and one World Cup, England had won only four of 11 pool matches. This defeat, which saw the Black Sticks make certain of the cross-over phase, may be the one where they played their best hockey of the lot. Mid-Olympic cycles just aren’t easy for England followers.
England got off to a flying start, in the fourth minute, when Lily Owsley dinked over an otherwise resolute Brooke Roberts from close range with team-mates threatening down on the Kiwi goal. The perfect opener to your 100th English cap.
Then came the start of the Kiwi resolve. Three times England had PC’s charged down by the Kiwi No 1 runner. On the third of them, the Black Sticks countered and in a flash Maddie Hinch was on guard to pad away the danger.
England’s best chance for a two-goal cushion fell to Tess Howard after Fiona Crackles had intercepted, stick juggled and sent a pinpoint pass into the path of her waiting team-mate inside the D. Howard turned on to the backhand, her shot flying across Roberts’ goal.
As the first half hooter loomed, New Zealand were level. A turnover on the left saw Katie Doar with a chance to shoot. Initially she seemed to be set up for a chipped backhand, instead her low shot deceived the English defence and Hinch in goal.
Midway through the third quarter, England celebrated a second through a deflected Grace Balsdon strike, only for a video referral deeming the strike too dangerous and her effort adjudged to be missing goal.
Two minutes later, Doare scored her second, a fortuitous one, when her backhand deflected off Giselle Ansley meekly into the England net. Ansley twice nearly atoned thereafter, her flick from the top of the D just wide and a rebound hit from another PC going the same way.
New Zealand then opened a two-goal cushion with just under 10 minutes left when a rebound PC, with Hollie Pearne-Webb sent to half-way for an early run, saw Tarryn Davey volley home after a backhand looped into her path.
In all, England were presented with 10 corner chances. The Kiwis held firm in all of them. For England, it’s another hold-your-breath moment in tournament hockey. On this performance, though, they can enter the final 60 minutes of the Pool stages in good heart.