The Hockeyroos got their Rabobank Hockey World Cup campaign off to the best possible start in testing circumstances as they came from behind to beat Korea 3-2 in The Hague on Saturday.
Missing captain Madonna Blyth to a calf strain sustained in training on Friday, they found themselves behind to a seventh minute goal but rebounded to score three times before holding out for a nervy final five minutes after a late Korean strike.
Emily Hurtz’s neat finish at the back post from Georgie Parker’s threaded pass levelled things in the 12th minute after Eunbl Cheon’s opener and the Hockeyroos made their set pieces count to devastating effect in the second half. Anna Flanagan fired high into the goal from a penalty corner earned on video referral before Casey Eastham won a penalty stroke from a corner, which Flanagan converted low into the bottom of the goal.
Just as things might have looked more comfortable for the girls in gold, Korea pulled one back with just over five minutes remaining, setting up a nervy final period. With the ball breaking loose in the centre of the circle, Seul Ki Cheon fired into the top corner, lifting the ball over the diving glove of goalkeeper Rachael Lynch.
Despite the setback the Hockeyroos regrouped, defending resolutely and maintaining possession to thwart the late Korean push for an equaliser.
National coach Adam Commens said afterwards, “We knew before we started the game and the tournament that the match against Korea would be a very difficult one. They’re a team that normally begins tournaments well and we thought it would be tricky. We saw that in the first half; they began strong. I thought that we built into the game and throughout the second half we played some good hockey. During that period we controlled the match well and I was pleased with the efforts of our players to take their opportunities well. The last five or six minutes were a little disappointing, to let them back into the game, but ultimately we got the three points and that’s what we were after.”
The Hockeyroos, led by Casey Eastham, played with 17 players as Blyth supported her teammates from the dugout.
Speaking about double Olympian and World Cup silver medallist Blyth, Commens said, “It happened yesterday at training – [in] our last training session. She felt it and as we know with those types of injuries you don’t feel them coming on, it’s just slightly sore. We made the decision to rest her. Our focus is the end of the tournament. I think it says something about our team and the confidence we have in it that we can play against a quality nation like Korea and take the option to rest our captain. She could have played but we didn’t want the injury to worsen for later in the tournament.
“We’d like her to play [against Japan on Monday]. Obviously it’s not ideal to have her sitting off for too long but as you know with these type of injuries it’s five to seven days normally. Belgium is in five days but we’ll monitor each day, do a small fitness test but right now she’s resting; she didn’t warm up or do anything.”
The Hockeyroos face Japan in their second match of the tournament at 18:30 AEST on Monday.