Vantage Black Sticks striker Olivia Merry celebrates with her team after scoring in the opening match of the Women's World Cup.
The Vantage Black Sticks Women have won their first World Cup pool game in London with two goals in two minutes the highlight against a resilient Belgium team.
After a slow start in the first quarter, the game burst into life in the second quarter as the Vantage Black Sticks opened the scoring on 24 minutes after increased pressure. A penalty corner led to Kelsey Smith getting a vital touch to deflect in after Anita Mclaren had fired a low shot towards the bottom left hand corner of the goal.
It didn’t take long however for the tide to turn in Belgium's favour. After pressure in the Kiwis penalty area and a scrappy interchange led to the ball falling to Belgium’s Louise Versavel who fired home the equaliser.
Just minutes later, and with New Zealand still reeling from the goal, Belgium pressed home it’s advantage with just seconds remaining on the first half clock. A Belgium attack on the left flank resulted in a telling cross to Jill Boon who controlled a powerful ball past the Kiwi's goalkeeper Sally Rutherford.
With New Zealand losing 2-1 at half time the Kiwi's came out in the second half looking to overturn the deficit. It didn’t take long. Another penalty corner and another drive from Anita Mclaren this time towards the bottom right of the goal saw Shiloh Gloyn get the crucial touch to guide the ball into the back of the net after 32 minutes to make the score 2-2.
The Vantage Black Sticks now had the ascendancy and straight from the hit off regained possession. The ball was moved quickly to striker Olivia Merry who ran powerfully towards the Belgium goal before reverse sweeping a strong shot through the legs of Belgium goalkeeper Aisling D’Hooghe to put New Zealand into a 3-2 lead.
Belgium however came back strong towards the end of the 3rd quarter. A well thought out move led to Belgium’s Barbara Nelen forcing a good save from Black Sticks Sally Rutherford. Minutes later Neelen drove another cross come shot towards goal where Jill Boon failed to get the all important touch.
Belgium went looking for the equaliser in the final quarter. A fluid move led to another chance for Belgium's star performer Jill Boon who was denied by a great defensive tackle from Stacey Michelsen.
In an end to end final quarter New Zealand looked to press home it’s advantage. After huge pressure in the Belgium circle the ball fell to Frances Davies who’s shot was stopped on the line by Lien Hillewaert’s body. After going upstairs for a video review the umpire gave a penalty stroke. 26 year old Olivia Merry strode up and calmly slotted away the penalty, her second goal of the match, to make the score 4-2.
Belgium continued to search for ways to get back into the game but Vantage Black Sticks goalkeeper Rutherford was strong again and made a crucial save with just five minutes to go to keep the Kiwi's advantage.
New Zealand coach Mark Hager said he was happy with the three points despite his side turning the ball over too often.
“The pleasing thing is we came out after half time and executed some corners really well, to come away with a win is good”
‘We didn’t underestimate Belgium, we are in a really tough pool, we’re up against Japan next who I thought played really well against Australia’.
New Zealand tops pool D and will carry a goal advantage over big rivals Australia who earlier beat Japan 3-2. The Vantage Black Sticks will take on Japan at 11pm on tuesday night (tomorrow) and can be viewed on Sky Sports.
TAB odds for games at the World Cup are available at www.tab.co.nz along with a special promotion. Simply download the TAB app, set up a new account, deposit $20 using the promo code 'HOCKEY' and TAB will boost your account with a further $20 as well as give $20 to Hockey New Zealand. Or go to the special promotion page to register!
VANTAGE BLACK STICKS: 4 (Kelsey Smith 24', Shiloh Gloyn 32', Olivia Merry 32' and 54')
BELGIUM: 2 (Louise Versavel 28', Jill Boon 30')
Half Time: BEL 2-1