The Vantage Black Sticks Women have been beaten 2-1 by an energised Japan team in their second World Cup pool game in London.
New Zealand were outrun and outfought by the Cherry Blossoms as they failed to take the initiative at the top of Pool D losing a pulsating match in the sweltering English summer heat.
Japan had started the game with the majority of possession in the first half. The game in England being played at a balmy 28 degrees. Despite the weather both teams looked lively early on with plenty of chances. Anita McLaren went closest for New Zealand after just two minutes with a reverse sweep that drifted wide. Japan however edged possession in the 1st quarter with just over 53% and had the best chance of the opening 15 minutes when Motomi Kawamura turned the ball wide past Sally Rutherford in the Kiwi’s net.
Japan continued the high intensity in the 2nd quarter, bursting into action with a penalty corner being cleared off the line by New Zealand defender Brooke Neal. Shortly after another Japan effort from another penalty corner flew over the bar.
After the halftime break the first half pattern was repeated, end to end play with Japan in the ascendancy.
And it was no surprise when Japan opened the scoring in the 35th minute. Fluid build up play forced a penalty corner after Kiwi’s Frances Davies was found to have intentionally played the ball over the back line.
From the penalty corner there was nothing that goalkeeper Sally Rutherford could do as Shihori Oikawa hit a thunderous strike into the bottom corner of the net.
Japan doubled its lead on 48 minutes after defensive frailties from the Vantage Black Sticks Women allowed Minami Shimizu in on goal, she rounded the goalkeeper to send Japan into a two goal lead.
This seemed to spur New Zealand into life with the Kiwi's having 59% of the possession in the final quarter. Relentless Vantage Black Sticks pressure led to a goal bound Brooke Neal shot being stopped on the line by Japan’s Mayumi Ono.
Despite a video umpire appeal from the Japanese, a penalty stroke was given. Anita McLaren duly stepped up and slotted away to the keepers right to make the score 2-1. With just eight minutes to go New Zealand sensed a comeback. Despite being down to ten players after Olivia Merry’s yellow card the Kiwis pushed on and could have stolen an equalizer.
With two minutes to go New Zealand threw everything forward and after some rapid build up play Kelsey Smith flashed a chance across goal, Japan happy to see the ball sail away from harm's reach, it was too little too late.
For the second time in 2018 Japan walked away as winners over New Zealand.
Vantage Black Sticks women's coach Mark Hager said it was hard to take positives from the game.
“I think it was one of our poorest performances for quite a while, saying that you've got to give Japan credit they put us under pressure but we didn't handle it well enough.”
He added it was no surprise about how energised Japan were coming into the game after their 3-2 defeat to Australia in their opening match.
“We knew they’d come out hard and we didn’t, we did in the first 5 to 6 minutes but we just fell away and that was the disappointing thing for me, we lost structure and we went away from how we were pressing and winning the ball and became individuals and that's how we started to get hurt.”
New Zealand now faces Australia in its final pool play match on Sunday morning at 7am and Hager was philosophical.
“Thats done, let's move on, it's not the end of the world, we're still in the competition we just need to play well in our next game.”