New Zealand grabs Beijing Olympics ticket

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Auckland, Feb 10 (UNI) New Zealand grabbed the coveted first place and ticket to Beijing Olympic Games after winning the World Hockey Olympic Qualifier final beating Argentina 3-2 here today.

In earlier action here, France had pulled a surprise win over Ireland to take the bronze medal, and Trinidad&Tobago had booked their first victory of the tournament to take 5th place.

In the ultimately dramatic final, Argentina were the stronger team in the initial phase, and went one goal ahead when Lucas Vila deflected a penalty corner hit from brother Matias up into the roof of the goal. Unable to capitalize on their early advantage any more, Argentina had to watch New Zealand increasingly gain momentum.

They took the equalizer from Dave Kosoof in the 49th minute, but managed to pull one back three minutes later when Mati Vila sunk 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 had to watch the game slip away.

After a string of chances for New Zealand, Hayden Shaw gave his team the relieving equalizer with 4 minutes to go to keep alive their hopes of the Olympic tournament and take them 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 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 after China, Korea, Pakistan, South Africa, Canada, Netherlands, Spain, Belgium and Australia who already got qualified last year. The last two vacancies will come from the World Hockey Olympic Qualifier in Chile (1-9 March ) and the World Hockey Olympic Qualifier in Japan (5-13 April ).

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