In the final match of the day, Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games champions New Zealand (WR:4) faced Belgium, who won silver medal at the Rabobank EuroHockey Championships 2017. Despite a disparity in rankings, this was yet another close contest.
Both teams created plenty of chances in the opening exchanges but it was actually the lower ranked team that put early pressure on the Black Sticks goal. The half ebbed back and forth but it was New Zealand who got the breakthrough. Kelsey Smith was the scorer after her team secured a penalty corner.
Belgium were straight back at the Black Sticks defence and a ball that bobbled around the circle was finally slammed home by Louise Versavel to equal the scores.
The Red Panthers went one better a few minutes later as a visionary cross from the left side of the field found Jill Boon unmarked in the circle. The striker had no hesitation in shooting home to give her side the lead.
The half-time break proved more advantageous to the New Zealand team as they came out firing on all cylinders. Just two minutes into the half and Shiloh Gloyn equalled things up from a penalty corner and seconds later Vitality Player of the Match Olivia Merry put her side ahead as she strode into the Red Panther’s circle and struck home.
For a few minutes this knocked the Belgium team back but this team under Niels Thijssen is made of stern stuff and so the game went back and forth as two hard-working teams strove to get a result. The game was finely poised as it entered the final quarter, with Belgium creating much pressure but always looking susceptible to an attack from the supremely fit New Zealand side.
Boon had the chance to equalise when she was again found in space in the circle – her clever movement a constant thorn in the Black Sticks’s side – but her shot flew visciously wide.
Belgium’s push for a point from the game was thwarted when Olivia Merry converted a penalty stroke just six minutes from time.
Speaking after the game, Olivia Merry said: “The nerves were getting a bit frayed because we were the last match of the first round but we have got that out of our system now. Belgium definitely put us under pressure but we followed our plan and now we will get ready for the game against Japan.”
Belgium’s Jill Boon said that one of the biggest changes in the Belgium team of late is their higher fitness levels and the impact this has had on their ability to be competitive with the higher ranked teams.