After a slow start to the tournament, the New Zealand players have hit a rich vein of form to take them to a showdown with either the Netherlands or Korea
in the final of the Sentinel Homes Hockey World League on Sunday evening.
Olivia Merry was the hero, as the Black Sticks, who put in a superb performance against Argentina in the quarter-finals, continued to play expansive
attacking hockey, backed up by sterling defensive work. Having dispatched the world number three side, they now faced the world number two, England
– a side that they knew would try to match them for work rate and fitness levels.
It really was a titanic clash as neither side yielded an inch for the majority of the game but then, as the game seemed destined to go to shoot-out,
Olivia Merry set the North Harbour alight as she slammed home the only goal of the match. The first two quarters were a game of attack and counter-attack.
The excellent Emily Smith was tireless as she drove the ball at the England circle, but earning their reputation as a first-class defence, England's
Hollie Pearne-Webb and Giselle Ansley kept the speedy midfielder out of the danger area.
For England, Sarah Haycroft was having an equally productive game as she drove down the right side of the field, seeking to link up with the forwards.
England's first notable chance came when Sophie Bray sent the ball into the goal and turned in celebration. On referral it was disallowed because of
an earlier back-of-stick offence. On the stroke of half-time Sophie Martin's shot was well-saved by Sally Rutherford in the New Zealand goal. After
half-time, New Zealand began to gain an edge. Ella Gunson, Tarryn Davey and Liz Thompson were all playing with energy and confidence but still
the midfield and defence of England held strong.
For England, the player who looked as if she might provide the magic needed for an England breakthrough was Lily Owlsey, whose energy and strength
has been a constant source of concern to opponents throughout this tournament. But New Zealand are nothing if not tough and despite the England
attacks, New Zealand stood firm and gradually it was apparent that the tide was turning against England and momentum was with the Black Sticks.
For the first 11 minutes of the final quarter it was largely New Zealand attacking but the England goalkeeper Maddie Hinch was intent on keeping
a clean sheet. She saved a barrage of shots and then displayed her athleticism with a brave smothering save from a blank range shot from Shiloh
The breakthrough came when New Zealand won a penalty corner. Olivia Merry's drag flick flew past Hinch and the New Zealand bench and their fans went
wild with joy. On the pitch, the Black Sticks held their composure for the remaining five minutes of tense and intense hockey. England took Hinch
off the pitch to gain a player advantage but they could not get the equaliser and New Zealand were in their second consecutive Hockey World League
Final. Lily Owsley, who saw one of her shots hit the crossbar, said: "It was fast, it was attacking. Unfortunately we backed ourselves not to lose
in open play but they are so fit and in the second half we couldn't match them. We needed to kill them off in the first half and we didn't and
their fitter players tore through us in the end."
Matchwinner, Olivia Merry, said: "We got on the front foot from the beginning. The goal was coming for a long time but Maddie Hinch kept England in
the game. We ground out that result today." Argentina might have been dethroned as champions of the Hockey World League Finals but in their encounter
with Germany in the fifth/sixth place play-off they played with all the swagger and confidence of a winning team. One of Argentina's problems over
this tournament has been an inability to convert chances into goals but, in the first half, six shots led to two goals, a much improved scoring
rate. Las Leonas took the lead in the eighth minute as they benefited from a German blunder at a penalty corner. The German's missed the trap and
the ball was driven down the pitch by Argentina. Eugenia Trinchinetti picked up the ball and took it to the baseline, evading a number of German
tackles, before slipping it over the German 'keeper. The lead was doubled in the 12th minute through Agustina Habif at a penalty corner.
The defender injected the ball and then, in a neat move, the ball was slipped back to her before she lifted it over the keeper at an acute angle.
For Germany, this was a frustrating match as they were unable to create any flowing patterns of play. Time and again the midfield or defence were left
chasing a player after their passes to the forwards were cut out and turned into an Argentine attack. The steady stream of green cards was a sign
of the frustration that was creeping through the team and the calming influence of Janne Muller-Weiland was missing for most of the game as she
rested a thigh injury. The third quarter saw yet more frustration boil over for Die Danas as Cecile Pieper was given a yellow card. Argentina won
a series of penalty corners as they made the player advantage count but the hard shots from Julia Gomez were run down by a defence committed to
not conceding anymore goals.
Despite the endeavours of the German defence, their opponents were determined to seek more goals. The third goal for Argentina went to Delfina Merino
after a great piece of decision-making from Martina Cavallero. The player could have taken the strike but spotted her captain in a better position,
so selflessly passed. Merino, who had been in sparkling form all match, made no mistake.
The final quarter saw Argentina play some sumptuous hockey as Maria Granatto and Cavallero ran at the German defence showing all the flair and speed
that makes this team so exciting. This period of play did result in an Argentina goal but it was disallowed by the umpire as it was classed dangerous
play. The final four minutes saw Germany start to find some passing links. Marie Mavers and Lisa Altenburg in particular working hard to create
chances to get a goal back. Charlotte Stapenhorst came closest as she found herself one-on-one with Belen Succi, but the 'keeper held her ground.
The clearance found Merino and, with the German 'keeper removed form the pitch, the captain scored her team's fourth goal.
Argentina might have finished their tournament with a win, but it was far from the ending that the South American team had hoped for.
Delfina Merino said: "It was important for us to finish this tournament winning. We won four of five games and finished fifth which is a bit strange
but that is the tournament."