New Zealand were denied a Commonwealth Games women’s hockey gold medal by the cruelest of circumstances today.
The higher-ranked Australian beat New Zealand in the final in a penalty shootout after scores were locked at 2-2 at full-time and after 15 minutes of golden goal extra time.
Australia won the shootout 4-2.
The New Zealanders showed their fighting spirit by equalising at 2-2 with only 35 seconds of normal time remaining. They had the better of the second half and had plenty of chances in the extra time period.
However the Australians absorbed the pressure and in the penalty shootout, there were two missed shots by the New Zealanders and only one by the Australians.
Australia opened the scoring against a tentative Black Sticks combination with a goal to Jessica Arrold after nine minutes following a well-worked penalty corner.
Thirteen minutes into the second spell Samantha Harrison finally equalised for New Zealand after a period of sustained pressure.
But Australia bounced back 10 minutes later with another goal from a penalty corner, this time by Ashleigh Nelson.
New Zealand launched wave after wave of attacks in the closing minutes and finally, with the crowd beginning the countdown to the end of the game, Clarissa Eshuis slammed home the equaliser.
The Black Sticks were understandably devastated afterwards.
Captain Kayla Sharland said it was a tough way for the match to end.
“It sucks. It was a frustrating way to finish,” she said.
“In the second half we came out strong and put a lot of pressure on the Aussies. We played our hearts out out there and dug really deep right till the end.”
Sharland took some satisfaction from the fact that the gap between Australia and New Zealand has clearly closed.
“We were slow to start – too tentative. They dominated us in the midfield at the start but we came back very well.”
Asked how many goals she would expect her team to score from five penalty flicks in the shootout, she said: “Five. There’s a lot of pressure, but you are there to put the ball into the net.”
New Zealand coach Mark Hager said it was a frustrating way to end a tournament in which the New Zealand women had achieved their best result ever at a games.
“It just didn’t roll our way at the end,” he said. “Last year we won a shootout against Australia in a World Cup match in Invercargill. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Hager felt New Zealand had looked ”shy and scared” in the first half, but that they had been very good in the second half.
“I told them at half-time they had to toughen up and get on top, and they did.”
Hager said his team’s performance in Delhi augured well for the Black Sticks in London at the 2010 Olympics.
“They just need some more experience, but you can see the ability is there. It’s exciting.”