The Black Sticks Men have won the 2015 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in thrilling style with a 3-1 shoot-out victory over defending champions Australia. Earlier in the day, India and Canada defeated Korea and hosts Malaysia shoot-outs respectively to take bronze and fifth place respectively.
On the day of shoot-outs in Ipoh, India and Korea found themselves locked at 2-2 at full-time hooter in Bronze medal match, which later India won by 4-1 in shoot-out, while hosts Malaysia were locked at 4-4 with Canada at full-time score. Ho-Garcia Gabriel scored a hat-trick for Canada, while Faizal Saari scored a brace for the hosts. In the end, Canada emerged as winner as they converted 3 of 5 attempts in shoot-out while Malaysia could convert only 1.
The final few minutes of the game were heart stopping with the Black Sticks taking a 2-1 lead with a penalty corner goal from Andy Hayward, only for Australia to tie the game again with 29 seconds remaining. With the game locked up 2-2 at fulltime, goalkeeper Devon Manchester proved the hero in the shoot-out with three saves as the Kiwis romped to the title.
It was the first time in the tournament’s history that the winner has been decided in a shoot-out, and also the first time the final has been an all-Oceania affair. Drag flick maestro Andy Hayward took out man of the match for his two goals against the Kookaburras while Manchester won goalkeeper of the tournament.
Black Sticks Head coach Colin Batch was thrilled that his side were able to close out the game under the intense pressure of a shoot-out. “We’re all very excited right now and pleased with our performance not only in the final but throughout the tournament. The guys should be very proud of themselves,” he said.
“We had some good moments in the first half and then continued to create opportunities in the second half, even after they levelled the score. I thought Devon had an outstanding game in goal, some of the saves he made gave the rest of the team a lot of confidence and we kept fighting right to the finish.”
Australia put the hammer down from the opening whistle and won two early penalty corners, but goalkeeper Manchester and the Kiwi defence were up to the challenge. The Black Sticks swung the momentum with some great attacking play of their own and grabbed the lead from their first penalty corner of the game, with Andy Hayward flicking low and into the back of the net.
The Kookaburras had the majority of possession throughout the first half but couldn’t find a way past Manchester, who was forced to make some critical saves. After the break New Zealand’s exemplary defence continued as they kept Australia off the scoreboard for yet another quarter.
Australia delivered the equaliser with just over 10 minutes to play when Jamie Dwyer got a deflection on a hard crash ball into the circle. The Black Sticks looked destined to secure the win with less than three minutes remaining when Hayward flicked home his second penalty corner goal of the game. But Australia put pressure on at the other end and earned a penalty stroke, with captain Mark Knowles obliging to level the score 2-2 at fulltime.
Tristan White and Daniel Beale made their 50th appearances for the Kookaburras in the match. The two sides will meet again in early May in Hobart as the Kookaburras host New Zealand, Pakistan and Korea in a series of matches to prepare for June’s Olympic Games qualifying tournament, the World League Semi Final.
Kookaburas coach Graham Reid said afterwards, “I thought we pressed very well but at the end of the day they got a corner, a soft corner. We had lots of opportunities but we didn’t put them away. That’s what hockey’s about – capitalising on those opportunities. We didn’t do that today.”
Acknowledging the work still to be done as the team builds towards the Rio 2016 Olympic Games qualifying campaign, Reid added, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint but we need to take all those lessons on board. We just need to work harder and harder back in Perth.”
Paying tribute to New Zealand and the role of all three goalkeepers in the match, he added, “That’s standard New Zealand. Their goalkeeper played really well. We hit him, of course, but he also had some saves. Our goalies did pretty well as well. It was one of those games.”