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Kiwis steal Olympic hockey berth
February 12, 2008 17:09 IST
New Zealand [Images] grabbed the coveted first place and a ticket to the 2008 Beijing [Images] Olympic Games after beating Argentina 3-2 over extra-time in the final of the men's Olympic hockey qualifier in Auckland on Sunday.
The Black Sticks have been wringing it from the hands of Argentina, who were inconsolable after coming so close and missing out for the second time after the Pan American Games five months ago, when Canada [Images] defeated them in the final.
In earlier action, France [Images] pulled off a surprise victory over Ireland to take the bronze medal, while Trinidad & Tobago scored their first victory of the tournament to take fifth place.
In a dramatic final, Argentina went a goal ahead when Lucas Vila deflected a penalty-corner hit from brother Matias up into the roof of the goal. But unable to capitalize on their early advantage any more, they had to watch New Zealand increasingly gain momentum.
The Kiwis equalised through Dave Kosoof in the 49th minute, but the South Americans went ahead again three minutes later when Mati Vila scored from a penalty-corner.
With the pace of the game getting frantic, Argentina could no longer produce the supreme performance of the beginning of the match and watched the game slip away.
After a string of chances for New Zealand, Hayden Shaw gave his team the relieving equalizer with four minutes to go to keep alive their hopes of the Olympic tournament and take the game to extra-time.
In extra-time, play went back and forth without either team being able to create much danger, but it was eventually New Zealand who got the lucky break, taking full advantage of a penalty-corner and Brad Shaw scoring with only seconds on the clock.
The Black Sticks' elation and their fans' celebrations came of course in stark contrast to the tears of the Argentines who for quite a while could not grasp the fact that they had let their ticket to Beijing slip from their hands a second time.
New Zealand is the tenth men's team qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympics [Images] after China, Korea, Pakistan, South Africa, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium and Australia already qualified last year.
The last two vacancies will be filled in from the Olympic qualifier in Chile, from March 1 to 9, and another one in Japan [Images], from April 5 to 13.