With an Olympic berth on the line, the Vantage Black Sticks Men have put together a clinical performance to see off a strong challenge from Korea. The New Zealand side only needed a draw to book their spot at the big dance, however, the Kiwis came out firing and were looking to put Korea under early pressure.
Wardrobe World Man of the Match Nic Woods ensured that the New Zealand team had good go forward and was integral in the Black Sticks 3-0 win.
Starting the first quarter with a one-goal buffer, the Kiwi Men knew that a good first half would go a long way to set them up well in the contest. The side was looking strong early on as the Korean Men were struggling to clear the ball out of their defensive zone as the Black Sticks screen was forcing them to look long to get the ball out of trouble.
Despite some significant pressure in the first quarter, the New Zealand Men couldn’t crack a resolute Korean defence and went into the first break tied at 0-0.
Almost straight away in the second quarter the Black Sticks went on the ascendency and were rewarded when Stephen Jenness deflected home another great cross for his third goal of the series and put New Zealand into a commanding position, with a two goal aggregate lead.
New Zealand continued to play with confidence throughout the quarter and were rewarded in the 23rd minute when Sam Lane finished off some slick passing to touch in the Kiwis second goal.
Korea went into half time trailing 2-0 and needing three goals in the second half to force the match to a penalty shootout. Looking desperate early in the third quarter the Korean side forced Leon Hayward in the New Zealand goal to pull off some spectacular saves to ensure the New Zealand lead remained intact.
Then it was the Kiwis turn to go on attack managing to break down the other end of the field and secured a penalty corner. Experienced drag flicker Kane Russell was then called on and flicked a ripping shot to the top netting of the goal, and the Black Sticks were ahead 3-0 and surely an unassailable lead.
With only minutes to go in the match and needing four goals to get themselves back into the series, the Korean side pulled their goalkeeper and immediately was rewarded with several penalty corners.
Despite a huge weight of possession in favour of the Koreans throughout the last quarter of the match, the Vantage Black Sticks were able to hold their nerve and book their place at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
The side will now take a well-earned break after a long season which started in January with the inaugural FIH Pro League, before returning to the turf at the start of February for season two of the Pro League, where they will begin their 2020 Olympic year against the reigning world champions Belgium, at the new National Hockey Centre in North Harbour.
Vantage Black Sticks Men 3 (Stephen Jenness 16 min, Sam Lane 23 min, Kane Russell 42 min)