Thursday, October 29, 2009


Black Sticks men's hockey coach Shane McLeod expects China to pose the biggest threat to his side at next week's World Cup qualifying tournament in Invercargill.

New Zealand and five other nations will battle it out on the Turnbull Thomson Park turf, with just the winner progressing to next year's men's Hockey World Cup in India.

Tournaments are also being contested in France and Argentina, around the same time, to determine the other two remaining World Cup qualifying spots.

China – ranked 13th in the world – ruined the Black Sticks' chances of qualifying for the medal round at the Beijing Olympics last year when they held them to a 2-all draw.

McLeod said the Chinese side did not tour much, which made them an unknown quantity ahead of the tournament.

"China will be difficult. It's very hard getting footage of them ...

"It's one of those situations. We tend to do well against teams we know well and play often."

The other sides at the Invercargill tournament – which begins on Saturday, November 7, will be Malaysia (ranked 16th in the world), Austria (20th), Scotland (24th), and Wales (29th). New Zealand is ranked eighth.

They should have no trouble getting information on the Malaysians, with the Black Sticks having played the Southeast Asian country in a five-match series in August in the leadup to the Oceania Cup. The Black Sticks won that series 3-nil, with two draws.

One of the surprise packages could be Austria, who have improved drastically in recent times. The Austrians finished seventh at the European Nations Cup in August and include some notable indoor hockey players.

New Zealand will warm up for the tournament with a three-match series against the Junior Black Sticks in North Harbour, beginning tonight.

Those games should be ideal preparation for the Black Sticks, with McLeod still weighing up a couple of positions in his 18-man squad for the qualifying tournament.

He said he was happy with the way the side was shaping up, with its European-based players having all returned to New Zealand.

The Black Sticks were forced to enter the qualifying tournament after losing the Oceania Cup final to Australia in August.

McLeod wanted to see his team creating more penalty corner opportunities on attack in Invercargill.

"We want to make sure our penalty corner works well. We've got a world-class penalty corner unit."