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Black Sticks suffer first loss in Belgium

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 25/06/2017

New Zealand have suffered their first loss at the women's hockey World League Semi Final tournament in Brussels but are guaranteed a place in the knockout phase.

The Black Sticks were beaten 1-0 by hosts Belgium in a close affair but one which world No.5 New Zealand knew would be a challenge.

The 14th ranked Belgians are considerably better than their ranking suggests, assistant coach Sean Dancer says, after assessing a mixed performance from his own team.

The lone goal came through a slickly-taken strike from Anouk Raes which went through the legs of goalkeeper Sally Rutherford in the 44th minute.

"We knew Belgium were going to be a tough game and they certainly proved that today. They're a side who has progressed immensely over the past 12 months," Dancer said.

"They were able to shut us down in some parts of the game and we struggled to respond to that pressure."

Having beaten Spain 1-0 and Australia 2-0, New Zealand are assured of a place in the quarter-finals regardless the result of their final pool match against winless Malaysia on Tuesday.

Black Sticks coach Mark Hager is keen that his team don't finish fourth in the pool, which would set up a quarter-final against world No.1 the Netherlands, who are dominating the other pool.

A draw with Malaysia would ensure they avoid that scenario.

The top four finishers at the 10-nation tournament will qualify for the World League Final in Auckland in November.

The Black Sticks are already guaranteed a place as hosts.

There are also five automatic berths available for the 2018 World Cup in London, although this number could increase, depending on results from subsequent continental championship tournaments.

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