From last posts Prologue Fast forward to vaguely modern times.
In 2013 we got to play Turkey in a Quarterfinal, and it was very tight. I think they went up a goal first and we ended up winning 2-1, something like this. They were playing the style I had coached them with, 2-3-1, and the coaches were guys I had coached. By then there was only one guy there in the team I had actually coached myself.
From there, the Turkish team and especially their U23 team built up a big reputation for being very physical and winning games with 4 guys in the water the whole game. They made sinbins look easy.
Sinbins... no big deal
They were impressive, and impressed a lot of people. I got told I don't know how many times by I don't know how many people how bad Turkey was going to beat us up over these last couple of years. It's good motivation for training.
In 2016 we didn't get to play them but they ended up coming through the most dramatic game pretty much ever played and winning in the last seconds with a penalty goal and 4 in the sin-bin in their semi... incredible game. So incredible in fact, and so hard to process, that it was almost written on the wall immediately that the semi-final was likely to be their final... all their emotional energy was already spent and they were now winners no matter what the outcome of the final, which they went on to lose to Aussie 3-0, sure enough.
I've been in teams where that has happened and it's hard to deal with... I've heard it said you have to lose a final to win one, which makes sense in some ways. Our first success at worlds in my generation was in 2002 when we went into a Semi-final against France having solidly lost to them in the RR. The french in 2000 had been finalists and incredibly unlucky to lose the gold, so we were huge underdogs having placed 7th in Hobart.
This was the last comp with end-subbing. It was a thing, young people!
I feel so old. Demarkation-line old. Not long-stick old, but still old.
Jacques the french coach actually stayed dry on the side throughout that game, though I'm not sure if that was confidence or maybe some nasal congestion to be fair. Anyway, ending up coming from behind to win that game was unexpected and in that situation, you have to focus on the opportunity of a final and it can be difficult when you have already exceeded expectations. After 2016, expectations were understandably already sky-high for Turkey.
Since 2013 they have had some turnover of coaches, and changed their formation to an Aussie 3-3 with a Turkish twist. The Turkish federation has bags of money and a lot of political clout, and that hasn't changed since I was there. They certainly arrived with a team that meant business, and looked the goods.
Awesome huh! What country wouldn't love to have the backing that these guys do. The federation organizes crowds and fireworks at the airport when they get home.
The matching suits, wicked. The flash hotel lobby, mean. But the team shoes do it for me the best. Team shoes! So slick. Last time we had a team photo, we wore jandals and Benson didn't have any so he drew some on his feet with a black marker pen.
I don't know the detail, but if it's anything like what they had when I was there then these guys had at least one training camp running for 2-3 weeks just before worlds where the federation plonked them in a hotel and they had 2 hours of training and games a day for the whole time, or more. Pool booking issues? Mate, forget about it. Problems getting enough annual leave? You're dreaming, if your boss pipes up the federation would give them a swirly.
A team full of guys who not only had this backing and training behind them, but were also all big strong dudes from a country famous for its strength athletes and most had swimming backgrounds? Well. It's a dream opposition if you want to try to beat the best. It's a fair bet that one day Turkey will be world champions if they can carry on their momentum. The question was, would it be in 2018.
Well, whaddaya know we got to play them in the Semi-final. Let's look at the game.
Through the comp people tended to declare Turkey a wall team, but I felt they weren't anywhere near that simple. They weren't trying to play the wall... they were just trying to play straight at the goal, straight ahead all the time. They didn't care where from... if a team defended to the wall then that's where they would go from, but they never bothered to try to go wide with one exception, their number 5 Ismail was a very obvious playmaker who looked for space and was happy to find width on occasion... everyone else just ran it straight. In rugby they call this kind of play the Samoan sidestep.
So, and what were we doing? Well, we had been playing the by-now-standard NZ style 2-3-1 same as our women, Spain men, GB women I think, our masters and some others. We were trying a bit of everything, wherever we could find space in the deep pool... a bit of wall, a bit of middle, whatever seemed to work.
GB commentator Lewis thought it would be a wall vs wide type of game... Not that simple maybe but there's probably a degree of accuracy in that the way it played out.
Here's the first strike.
Turkish with a standard Aussie 3-3 setup, forwardline, goalie pushing really high behind them and halfbacks either side waiting for play to develop to their side to move up. NZ, vanilla 2-3-1 as per our womens team.
In the first couple of minutes we can see how aggressive the Turkish style is, how well it works for them but also the problems it causes them.
Turkey gets momentum to the right off the first strike (the first I've seen our forwards lose all competition) and shape like this on the wall, in a standard pattern...
They then pressure our corner for a minute or so. They then get a bit off balance. From the start of this vid, the lefthand Turk is their outside back... the cover defender.
As the play moves to the wall, he moves over and covers, then gets the puck and swims all the way into the corner. Super aggressive, but while the goalie (number 5) sits in his normal position, no-one covers outside and when the puck is thrown wide straight to our outside winger Nick, he only has an outside forward in poor position ahead of him and he swims off and gets from our second lane to their second lane before a Turkish back can get over to disrupt the swim, of which Jeremy gets on the end of and adds pressure which the Turks eventually manage to deflect. This is a massive swing in momentum and territory and shows the Turkish vulnerability to wide switches very early.
This is feeling pretty serious and re-living this game is making me feel tense so I am going to attempt to lighten the mood by throwing in some Chuck Norris jokes, but using our own Chuck Norris, a man of few words and much beard... Gunny.
When Gunny jumps in a pool, he doesn't get wet. The water gets Gunny.
Turks get an adv and push down the wall to pressure our right corner, and again, really aggressive, the outside half coming right up to the goal. Our forward Ben subs and this time Andrew gets a perfect sub in, comes right into the goal, Ed pushes it out from the tray, Andrew grabs the puck and goes on an epic swim. Coskun does really well to get back over the top and catch him, he's got some serious wheels and you can see him use a nice streamline to do it.
Andrew manages to stay down and Hamish comes in on the other side and nearly has the goal but for a last-gasp drop tackle by the Turkish defender #11 Fatih.
A little while later, we see the first Turkish "curtain" on an advantage puck...
This is something they have been doing all comp, putting 3 forwards in a hanging line like many teams do but putting them straight up to stop any opposition forward swimming through at the puck. Most games they get at least one call against them for obstruction from it, but they are pretty attached to it.
If you ask Gunny what time it is, he always says, "Two seconds
till." Then you ask, "Two seconds till what?" and he roundhouse kicks you
in the face.
Lewis at this point has a distinctly GB-themed commentary, topped off with the classic commentators curse, "GB would like to have New Zealand in the final". We will cover the France-GB Semi later on. Is the French Uwh god Crossey McPalmeface listening? However, bearing in mind this patriotic enthusiasm, the commentators are doing a pretty fantastic job. Maybe we should keep an eye on them as the game goes to answer any points they raise if we can.
A minute later Jesse gets a bit of a foul and looks around for a ref, then plays on without half his air, in a nod to Nick Martyn the Aussie choo choo train.
After the refs give the foul on Jesse, the puck pops to Andre in the channel who tries a trademark sucker dummy, which is well done but also very well defended by Turkish number 3 Mert who is onto it and doesn't let him past.
Turkey get a free after this and after some roundy round Coskun #2 makes a nice tackle and gets space, and swims in behind his forwards, holding onto the puck very nicely and not rushing the pass until he is right up on the goal.
Yes, I can vouch for a defender getting squished into the wall because it was me as Turkish #4 Ahmer swam ahead of the play, but the refs were happy with it and we should have had a guy on the puck earlier in the phase so, ah bugger. Turkish caught a nice crack in our support as our forwards were looking to break, as it often happens when teams can be more vulnerable when trying to take an attacking chance. Volkan #10 put it in the goal on the other side of Ahmer, and the refs give the goal. We are 0-1 down.
Gunny does not sleep. He waits.
Volkan is the one guy remaining in the Turkish team that I coached in 2007. He's a fantastic player, huge, incredibly fast and powerful, amazingly flexible for a big guy and with a good head for reading the play. He swam over and handed me a Turkish federation flag before the game and we had a nice moment to wish each other luck before play started.
He had a great goal celebration too. Very simple.
Judgement day. It sure was!
Rob slips a great pass here flat under #12 Yusuf's body onto his forwards stick. Looks simple but takes some presence of mind to slide a flat slow pass in the heat of the moment.
This is a big coaching point that takes a long time for young players here in NZ to catch on to. When making every pass as big as possible, you lose a lot of accuracy and nuance. Once your goal becomes to hit a target on a given trajectory, like "get puck to that stick through that hole" then accuracy seems to go up a lot.
Not long after, the fading seconds of the first half and NZ gets a free on the Turkish bin. 6 on 6 still, and no sin-bins in the game so far. That's pretty good going for an Elite game, let alone a playoff!
Some things are hard to explain. Jesse, a guy weighing, I dunno, maybe 80kgs when he hasn't had a poo in a week? Waves the team behind him and goes straight and physical against a team where I'm guessing every player outweighs him by at least 10kgs, many a lot more. He gets a great pass off to get in behind the charging forwards, and chases it in like Forrest down a hole.
Ed did a good job on the outside keeping it from turning for the corner, and Hamish did some digging too as they finally shoved it across to Nick to finish. Quite an unexpected goal if I'm honest, to score straight away in first phase like that... probably no-one was expecting it. Coskun did pop very early for this one, the Turkish right back, and I can only think that he must have had his view obscured and didn't see the puck move towards the goal until too late when it went in under him. Visions tricky in uwh and if we got lucky there, well I'll take it.
Halftime, and the score was tied 1-1.
Gunny doesn't read books. He stares them down until he gets the information he wants.
We had a bit of a look at how the Turkish formation was working in one of the Quarterfinal posts - link here. But just to reiterate, Turkey were playing a vanillaish Aussie 3-3 but with their working forward rotating behind and with the working halfback. What that has a tendency to do, is mean that when the puck moves across the pool, in a normal 3-3, the outside half will come up to limit territory loss or even if he times it aggressively to attack, but he will do it pretty carefully because he's coming up from last cover defender to do it. In the Turkish version, that guy knows that as soon as he engages he will have his forward roll over behind him in a few seconds, and you can see that this gives the Turkish outside half a lot of confidence to shoot up extremely aggressively. This puts heaps of pressure on but also is pretty risky.
In terms of tactics, this is a little similar to a game we had in 2008 against South Africa in the Semi-Final. We could see that the outside SA halfback came right in to the wall from lots of areas in the pool leaving no cover... whether a tactic to add wall pressure, or just preferences of individual players. We went into that game with a plan to take the puck to their outside half as often as we could, and ended up catching them out of position a few times, and got a bunch of runaway goals in the game as a result. This game was one of the few times I can remember having a plan that seemed to work.
Lets be honest in Uwh Mike Tyson had it right.
Detailed plans in Uwh very rarely bear fruit, and we were playing a lot of the tournament heads-up, ie play whats in front of you. So we didn't have secret plans to target these things... I'm just pointing things out in Hindsight, and I find it pretty fascinating to see how things ended up happening.
Gunny once tackled someone so hard his stick broke the speed of light, went back in time and killed hitler in his bunker.
This post went long (unlike all the others, right?) so I'll break here and be back in a while with the second half, or maybe cut back to the accommodation to see what the parentals and supporters were up to.