Blacksticks women in stunning opener

Kiwi women upset world no.2 in Olympic opener

The New Zealand women’s hockey team have startled world no.2 Argentina with a 3-0 victory in their opening Olympic match at Tokyo’s Oi Hockey Stadium.

The result was even more remarkable considering the sixth-ranked Kiwis were without their two most experienced players today with captain Stacey Michelsen (hamstring) and vice-captain Sam Charlton (hip) both on the injured list.

Otago midfielder Tessa Jopp and Taranaki striker Holly Pearson were called into the match day squad, and Pearson made the most of her Olympic debut scoring the all-important third goal – her first in the black dress.

New Zealand captain for the day Olivia Merry, recently named the FIH Pro League’s top goalscorer for the second year in a row, was pleased to see their penalty corner options delivering results today.

“We have been working on our set pieces so it’s really good to put away a few penalty corners. But you never know with an Argentinian side – they can always come back.

“It’s a huge stepping stone for us … but you don’t win a gold medal from your first game.”

Argentina had the better of a scoreless first half, dominating possession and having a handful of shots on goal – with a penalty corner going high and star Delfina Merino putting one wide from the spot. The Kiwis soaked up the pressure and slowly built into their own attack.

New Zealand opened the scoring five minutes into the second half with Kelsey Smith picking up the scraps from a Stephanie Dickins penalty corner strike to juggle the ball over the keeper and into the goal.

Five minutes later New Zealand extended their lead to 2-0 with youngster Hope Ralph collecting her fourth goal for her country. Ralph received a Megan Hull penalty corner on the right post and pushed the ball under the Argentinian keeper.

The Argentinians threw everything at the Kiwis in the final quarter but weren’t able to convert any of their 13 shots on goal, including six penalty corners, largely thanks to the efforts of Grace O’Hanlon in goal.

In fact it was the Kiwis who scored at the end, with Pearson latching on to a pass from Jopp and firing in the third goal which put the result beyond doubt.

New Zealand 3 (Kelsey Smith 35 min, Hope Ralph 40 min, Holly Pearson 54 min).
Argentina 0.
Halftime: 0-0.

New Zealand Women: Ella Gunson (Northland); Stephanie Dickins (North Harbour); Katie Doar, Julia King, Grace O’Hanlon (GK), Elizabeth Thompson (Auckland); Tarryn Davey (Thames Valley); Frances Davies, Rose Keddell (Tauranga); Holly Pearson, Hope Ralph (Taranaki); Olivia Shannon (Manawatu); Megan Hull (Wairarapa); Kelsey Smith (Nelson); Olivia Merry – captain (Canterbury), Tessa Jopp (Otago).

Next up the New Zealand women play the home side Japan at 11.45pm (NZ time) tomorrow followed by Spain at 2.45pm on Wednesday.

For the Olympic hockey schedule and results click here.

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