Goals to Kane Russell and Stephen Jenness have not been enough to lift the Men’s Black Sticks to an opening win in the Tokyo Olympics hockey tournament, falling to India 3-2.
It was a quality showing from the Kiwis against the team expected to be their biggest test in pool play, with world No 5 Indian side having enough success defensively to stifle most of the New Zealand attacks.
The Indian side had goalkeeper Sreejesh Parattu Raveendran to thank for closing out the game, as he made several good saves in the final quarter to keep his side in the lead and close out the win.
It didn’t start out that way, however. The Black Sticks went ahead early in the match after seeing off some early pressure, with Russell converting from a penalty corner six minutes into the contest.
The lead was short lived. India continued to apply the pressure on the New Zealand goal, and broke through for a penalty corner of their own with Rupinder Pal Singh getting it past Kiwi goalkeeper Leon Hayward.
With the scores level after the opening quarter, it was the Indian side who continued to ask questions of their Kiwi counterparts, and struck the lead through Harmanpreet Singh just before the halftime break.
India celebrate victory over the Black Sticks. Photo / AP
Singh was in again soon after play resumed to give India a two-goal buffer, but from there it was the Indian defence that had questions to answer.
The Black Sticks pushed up looking to close the gap, and did – again from a penalty corner – with Jenness beating Raveendran toward the end of the quarter.
The New Zealanders had the better of the attacking opportunities in the final period, working some good shots both in open play and from penalty corners.
However, they were unable to get another passed the stick of Raveendran, who made three important saves in the final minutes of the game – the last coming with less than 30 seconds remaining.
While being beaten in their opening match, the Black Sticks impressed with a strong defence and were largely able to match the Indians every step of the way. They’ll now turn their attention to their second match day of the tournament, with a clash against world No 9 Spain tomorrow night.