KOOKABURRAS 2-2 (HT: 1-0) BELGIUM*
For Kookaburras: Chris Ciriello 21 (PC), Russell Ford 70 (F)
For Belgium: Tom Boon 49 (F), Sebastien Dockier 59 (F)
*Belgium win 7-6 after a sudden death shoot-out
In a dramatic final at the World League in Rotterdam, the Kookaburras came out on the wrong side of an enthralling 2-2 draw and a sudden death shoot out against Belgium. Earlier in the day, Netherlands and Spain defeated New Zealand and India to finish at 3rd and 5th place respectively.
For much of the match the Kookaburras battered the Belgian defence but despite goals from Chris Ciriello and Russell Ford, a textbook goalkeeping performance by Belgium’s Vincent Vanasch and the faintest of saves from his replacement Jeremy Gucassoff in the shoot-out denied the Australian men victory.
Head Coach Ric Charlesworth admitted afterwards his side had enough chances to win the game but said they had achieved two of three of their pre-tournament ambitions. “It’s a disappointing way to lose but we can only blame ourselves,” he said. “We had the chances but we didn’t take them; we even had chances to win it in the shoot-out. We had six penalty corners to their one but the goalkeeper made a lot of good saves and we put one past our own goalkeeper, too.
“We had three aims coming here: to qualify for the World Cup, to qualify for World League round four [in January] and to play well and win the main game. We didn’t lose today, it was a draw, but we didn’t play well enough and that’s our fault.”
Going into the game, the Kookaburras were keen to avenge their opening match defeat to Belgium but were without Kieran Govers, ruled out injured after sustaining a hamstring injury in the final minutes of Australia’s semi-final win over the Netherlands.
After a bright start, Chris Ciriello’s superb low flick from a 21st minute penalty corner gave Australia a deserved lead although Belgium thought they might have had an equaliser when the ball ended up in the Australian goal five minutes later. However, after successfully appealing to the video umpire, the Kookaburras overturned the goal, the ball deemed dangerous as it was lifted into Kiel Brown in the build-up.
The Kookaburras took a 1-0 lead into half time but it could have been three had it not been for an acrobatic stick save from Vanasch to deny Ciriello a second and quick block to thwart Tim Deavin with the Australian baring down on goal.
Matt Swann looked to have done everything necessary to extend the Australian lead four minutes after the restart but he too could only watch as Vanasch somehow turned his close range shot wide after good build-up play from Ciriello and Matt Gohdes.
Good defensive work from Glenn Simpson denied Thomas Briels before another outstanding piece of goalkeeping kept out Ciriello’s next corner effort. And it was a save that was to prove crucial for Belgium, who equalised a minute later through Tom Boon’s deflected shot. Up until the goal the Belgians had looked a little shaky but Boon’s strike galvanised the Europeans, who tested the reflexes of Andrew Charter from a penalty corner with the goalkeeper tipping the ball against the crossbar.
Charter then saved from Cedric Charlier but could do nothing to stop Sebastien Dockier from giving Belgium a 2-1 lead as he swept home at the back post with a little over ten minutes remaining. The goal set up a tense grandstand finish as the Kookaburras went in search of a dramatic equaliser. A penalty corner won on appeal did not quite go to plan but just as it looked as though time was running out, Russell Ford’s run behind the Belgian defence was timed perfectly to connect with a long pass and deflected home for 2-2.
With the sides level, the final went to a shoot-out. Matt Swann, Simon Orchard, Trent Mitton and Chris Ciriello all saw their shots find the target with only Matt Gohdes having his saved but at 4-4 after five shots each the shoot-out went to sudden death.
Sudden death began with some controversy as goalkeeper Andrew Charter cleaned out the Belgian Loick Luypaert, who had to leave the pitch injured. With the umpires awarding a retake, Charter stepped up to deny Florent van Aubel, but Swann then saw his shot saved. Orchard and Mitton and their Belgian counterparts all scored before Simon Gougnard scored for Belgium. Ciriello, who had been one of Australia’s stand out players in the match, needed to score to keep the Kookaburras in contention but as he let off his shot replacement goalkeeper Jeremy Gucassoff got the faintest of touches on the ball to send it trickling wide and secure victory for Belgium.
Despite the defeat, second place at the World League guarantees the Kookaburras their participation in the 2014 World Cup in The Hague and a place at the fourth and final round of the World League competition, set to take place in India in January.
And, depending on how Germany fare in the corresponding World League third round competition in Malaysia next week, the Kookaburras could return to the top of the world rankings. Anything less than a top two position for Germany will see the Kookaburra renamed as the world’s best team.