Kieran Govers announced his return to fitness with two excellent penalty corner strikes to twice put Australia ahead only for Belgium to level almost immediately on each occasion. But the quick thinking Whetton ensured the Kookaburras avenged their previous results against the Belgians, who beat Australia in the opening fixture of the Rabobank Hockey World League Semi-Finals in Rotterdam last June before beating them in a shoot-out in the final of the same tournament.
The bright starting Kookaburras threatened early but it was only in the final few minutes of the first half that the game truly came to life with Govers’ low penalty corner goal. The Kookaburras’ delight was short-lived, however, as Tom Boon fired home an equaliser less than 60 seconds later.
Govers’ second goal 12 minutes into the second half restored the Aussie advantage but again Belgium fought back, forcing substitute goalkeeper George Bazeley into two good blocks. Moments later Bazeley’s goal was breached by Thomas Briels who took advantage of a mistake in the Kookaburras’ defence to equalise from close range to make it 2-2.
With the pressure ramping up, Govers played an important defensive role late on as he dived acrobatically to clear a loose ball from in front of the goal line following a Bazeley penalty corner save and it was to prove critical moments later when Jake Whetton stuck to give the Kookaburras victory.
Striding into the circle the Kookaburras’ number 12 went sprawling but was able to apply the deftest of touches on his reverse to lift the ball over the Belgian goalkeeper and spark celebratory scenes on the Australian bench.
Hero Man of the Match Whetton played down his role afterwards, saying, “It’s a team performance. We stuck to our game plan the whole way. It was a little scrappy towards the end but we stuck to our game plan and came away with a good, hard-fought victory in the end.
“There’s no easy game here and we recognise that from World League [round] three against Belgium. It was a great test for us to have them straight up and now a massive test tomorrow against Holland.”
With regular corner taker Chris Ciriello ruled out of the tournament through injury, Kieran Govers explained afterwards how practice paid off for him. “Since Chris Ciriello’s not here I’m the guy that takes them [penalty corners] now,” said Govers. “I’ve been working on them a fair bit so was able to put some in the corners where I wanted to. I’ve been practising pretty hard and it’s been paying off, which is good.”
The Kookaburras take on world number three side and Olympic silver medallists the Netherlands on Saturday. That match gets underway at 9:30pm AEDT / 6:30pm AWST and will be shown live on YouTube.com/fihockey and on delay on ABC 1 later in the evening. (Full Schedule here)
Speaking post the match Australia Coach, Ric Charlesworth said “it was not a tough match but yes some moments in the match were crucial but the result is satisfactory. The players made some mistakes on the field and we could have scored a few more goals. The way forward is to continue the winning note and enter the finals”.
Speaking on the loss in the opening game Belgium Coach, Marc Lammers said “it was a tough match for us, but the boys played good hockey. The team gave a good fight in the second half of the match but the Australians took the match away from us in the last minute. We missed on the penalty corner opportunities and we have also need to work on our passes for the next match”.