Canada upsets New Zealand, Olympic qualification still at large

Feature photo: via International Hockey Federation (FIH) 

Canada pulled off one of the great sports upsets of the year when the men’s field hockey team defeated New Zealand 8-7 in shootout for a chance at the Olympic Games.

However, the win over world number seven New Zealand to advance to the final four of the FIH World League Semifinals was the last victory for Canada in Buenos Aires. A top three finish would’ve guaranteed an Olympic Games spot, the Canadians finished fourth with losses to Argentina (3-0 in the semifinals) and Netherlands (6-0 in the third place match).

Despite falling shy of an automatic Olympic berth, Canadian men may have done enough to secure a path to Rio, but must wait and have multiple factors work in its favour.

Men’s team in Buenos Aires for a ticket to Rio

Thursday, June 11: Canada 0 (8) – 0 (7) New Zealand

After finishing third in its group, Canada faced the herculean task of taking on New Zealand in the quarterfinals of the World League Semifinals (the third phase of the 2014-15 World League season).

Canada (no. 15 in the world) played to win the match, trying to create chances rather than bunkering against a dangerous side. Plucky Canada held the Kiwis scoreless forcing a shootout following 60 minutes of action. The ‘Black Sticks’ took a 3-1 lead over Canada in the best of five, but back-to-back stops from goalkeeper David Carter helped to bring Canada back level at 3-3 forcing sudden death.

At 5-5, eight straight shots (four from each country) were stopped by Carter and his counterpart Devon Manchester. Then the teams traded two shootout goals before Carter stopped Ryan Archibald. It was then that Adam Froese had the chance to win the match for Canada. He waited for Manchester to commit to the keeper’s right before turning to fire home the winner and sending Canada to the semifinals of the tournament.

Canada will face the winner of Argentina in the next round and will get two chances at an Olympic qualification, first in the semifinal match, which if they don’t win, a third place showdown awaits. The win over New Zealand also could take them to the World League Final tournament in India, which gets underway in November, but Canada must wait to learn if they’ve advanced based on the other Semifinals taking place in Antwerp.

Tuesday, June 9: Canada 0-9 Germany

The reigning Olympic champion and world no. 3 Germany put on a show at Canada’s expense in Argentina on Tuesday beating the Canadian 9-0.

Germany showed its class in this match and the gulf between a top three nation and the rest if the underdog is caught unprepared. The Europeans were up 4-0 inside the opening seven minutes and it didn’t get better for the Canadians. Canada finishes in its pool with six points in third place, setting up a quarterfinal date against another traditionally strong side, New Zealand.

Saturday, June 6: Canada 1-2 Argentina

The two top-rated men’s field hockey teams in the Americas faced each other on Saturday, with Argentina emerging the victor 2-1 in its capital city.

Facundo Callioni and Gonzalo Peillat scored for the Argentines, while Sukhi Panesar got the goal for Canada. The score was 1-1 at halftime with Canada goalkeeper David Carter making massive saves, before Argentina pulled away in the 45th minute and held its lead. Canada now faces Germany in its final round robin match on Tuesday.

Thursday, June 4: Canada 3-0 Austria

On Thursday, Canada beat Austria 3-0 with goals from Mark Pearson, Devohn Noronha-Teixeira and Matthew Sarmento. Goalkeeper David Carter picked up the shutout, keeping his team in the lead with key saves despite some early second half pressure from the Austrians when it was only a one-goal game.

With a 2-0 start, the schedule gets tougher for Canada with matches against Argentina (June 6) and Germany (June 9) upcoming. That will settle the round robin portion of the tournament, setting up the knockout stage where the top three teams will earn an automatic Olympic berth.

Wednesday, June 3: Canada 3-2 Spain

Canada started the FIH World League Semifinals tournament exactly as needed, beating higher-ranked Spain 3-2 in Buenos Aires.

Goals from Gordon Johnston, James Kirkpatrick and Devohn Noronha-Teixeira lifted Canada to the one-goal victory. The Canadians led 2-0 and 3-1 before Noronha Teixeira’s breakaway strike stood as the deciding goal, giving Canada a winning start to the tournament.