Australia will play for pride, but more importantly experience, when they take on Beijing Olympic silver medallists China in a play-off for fifth in London from 8:20pm AEST tonight LIVE on Foxtel channel 187.
Australia tied with Argentina and New Zealand on points after Pool B games missing out on the semi finals on goal balance for the second Olympic campaign in a row.
China, who lost to the Netherlands in the gold medal-game in Beijing four years ago, failed to progress after finishing third in Pool A behind the Netherlands and Great Britain.
Four years ago China ended Australia’s campaign, when they scored two more goals than Australia in the rounds to progress to the medal rounds, and this time round it has been New Zealand who inflicted the same fate by just one goal.
As painful as the prospect of going without a medal for another four years may be, the composition of the team suggest real optimism for the future.
Australia had one of the youngest and least experienced teams at the Olympics with half the group having played less than 80 tests and three players, Emily Smith, Anna Flanagan and Georgia Nanscawen, all celebrating their 20th birthday this year.
Ironically it was those three players who provide the greatest optimism for the future with their effervescent play throughout the tournament.
One of our most experienced players in London has been Casey Eastham, the baby of the Beijing team, and she is just 23 years old.
Most of the team veterans are in their early to mid 20s and will be in their prime when Rio de Janeiro comes round in 2016.
Coach Adam Commens has done a phenomenal job fast-tracking a new young group after taking over the coaching job just 18 months ago.
“The future looks great and I would envisage we won’t have more than two or three retirements after the Games which means we have created good depth moving forward,” Commens said.
He said it has been difficult to prepare a team for the Olympics in just 18 months and never expected them to reach their full potential for a few more years.
Captain Madonna Blyth said the players worked hard throughout the two-week campaign be needed to score more goals.
“We didn’t have a field-goal scored against us the whole tournament – our defence was very good, but we just couldn’t put the goals away,” she said.
Goalkeeper Toni Cronk, the only player with three Olympic campaigns to her credit, said they played their best hockey in their last game against world champions Argentina and to emerge with a draw, and miss out on the medal round, was heart breaking.
“But we’ll come together as a group, we’re a pretty strong and resilient unit and the next game is important for us to win,” she said.
Hockey Australia Press Release