IPOH, Malaysia (AFP) –
New Zealand beat Argentina 1-0 in a tough and thrilling final clash in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup men’s hockey tournament Sunday that bodes well for the Black Sticks in the London Olympics.
It is their maiden win in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and the team will surely head to London with bigger expectations.
A clinical penalty corner execution in the 18th minute by veteran Andy Hayward was enough to stop 2008 champions Argentina from regaining the cup.
New Zealand maintained their dominance with a solid defence and impressive attack in the tournament, losing only once to South Korea one-nil.
But modest Black Sticks coach Shane McLeod played down the importance of the win as far as the Olympics were concerned.
“Sure, it is great to have won our first Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. It is no mean feat considering the opposition we have had to face. But we still have a fair bit of work to do before the Games start in July,” he said.
“This has been a good tournament for us and playing five other Olympic-bound teams is a bonus as we now know a lot more about these teams.”
The tournament in the Malaysian northern city of Ipoh is an important pre-Olympic warm-up for London qualifiers Argentina, Britain, India, South Korea and Pakistan.
New Zealand are ranked seventh in the world and the Black Sticks last won an Olympic gold in Montreal in 1976 and had only ever made it to the third place in the annual Sultan Azlan Shah Cup despite participation in the tournament that goes back two decades.
Argentina failed to capitalise despite numerous chances.
It was heartbreak for the South Americans who dominated the proceedings but just could not find their scoring touch.
Both teams were rather apprehensive in the opening minutes as Argentina opted to let New Zealand attack and relied on fast counter attacks.
New Zealand were awarded a penalty corner in the first-half and the 26 year-old Hayward stepped up to send a low flick past a despairing dive by Argentine keeper Juan Manuel Vivaldi.
Argentina were later awarded two penalty corners but they failed to convert.
Meanwhile in the match to decide the bronze medal, India came from a goal down to defeat Britain 3-1.
Ashley Jackson opened the scoring in the 35th minute as his penalty corner flick sailed into the goal.
But India were undeterred as they created several chances. And they were duly rewarded as Shivendra Singh fired home in the 43rd minute to level the score.
South Korea finished in fifth place after defeating host Malaysia 3-2.
Asian giants Pakistan finished rock bottom. Hosts Malaysia are the only team at the tournament not going to the Olympics.