Two goals in a storming opening ten minute spell helped the Kookaburras to a 3-1 victory over Belgium in the Rabobank Hockey World Cup 2014 in The Hague on Thursday, as Kookaburras looking at defending their World Champions title.
Chris Ciriello’s lightning quick penalty corner drag flick seven minutes in and Jake Whetton’s close range finish two minutes later put the Australian men in the driving seat against a Belgium side backed by a sizeable support just 90km from home.
Goalkeeper Andrew Charter held Belgium’s Red Lions at bay on numerous occasions in the first half before, a minute into the second period, Eddie Ockenden finished a tremendous solo effort with a tomahawk strike through the legs of goalkeeper Vincent Vanash for 3-0.
Sebastien Dockier struck back for Belgium ten minutes later to make it 3-1 and despite a series of penalty corners and chances at both ends that was how it stayed.
Kookaburras coach Ric Charlesworth declared himself pleased with the result and his side’s trajectory in the competition while admitting he still expects more from his team.
“It was a tough match,” he said. “I think there was some good hockey played but both teams would be a bit unhappy with some of the mistakes they made. I think we had too many lapses, I’m not happy with that. We played maybe two good quarters and two average quarters in the game and I expect more than that. I’m very happy with the result because Belgium is a team of high quality and I expected the sort of game that we got.
“The goal that they scored, again we fell asleep. We thought the danger had gone and it’s ever present in hockey. So, yeah, I’m not happy with that and it needs to be addressed.
“We haven’t had, coming into this tournament, the number of matches some other teams have had so we’re perhaps a little bit rusty still but I don’t mind our trajectory. I think it’s ok. But we expect to play better than this, yes.
“The group matches in these tournaments are about fighting for a place in the classification part of the tournament and that’s what our aim is. We still have to do more.”
Kieran Govers had already signalled Australia’s intent, forcing Vanash into an early save before Ciriello beat the goalkeeper with the pace of his penalty corner in the seventh minute. Jake Whetton was in the right place at the right time to capitalise and make it 2-0 soon after following good work by Glenn Turner, who found his fellow forward at the back post after seeing his initial shot blocked.
Canberra-born goalkeeper Andrew Charter pulled off several good blocks from open play and Belgian set pieces to keep the Kookaburras goal intact heading into half time.
Tasmanian Eddie Ockenden gave Australia the best possible start to the second half when he waltzed past two defenders, cutting in from the right before unleashing a powerful tomahawk that flew into the goal for 3-0.
Sebastien Dockier, in space at the back post, hauled a goal back for Belgium in the 46th minute, but despite penalty corners and chances in front of goal at both ends that was how it stayed.
Goal scorer Jake Whetton, who netted his first World Cup goal, said afterwards, “I think we have started slow in the past against Belgium. World League [round] three was a classic example; they got a goal in the first 30 seconds, so we knew they were going to come out pretty strong against us, so we wanted to start well and, yeah, we did it.”
Paying tribute to teammate Glenn Turner for setting up the goal, he added, “I’ll leave the bargy stuff to G (Glenn Turner) – he’s pretty good at it – and I just get to those spots where I know I’m going to be dangerous, and fortunately G was skilful enough to find me on the back post. Nice to get one in a big tournament but plenty to go from here.”
The Kookaburras now have a maximum nine points from a possible nine and sit top of Pool A, two points ahead of England, who they meet on Saturday (4pm local time / midnight AEST Saturday into Sunday). Belgium are third in the pool with six points. The top two in each pool after five matches progress to the semi finals. The Kookaburras meet India on Monday in their final pool fixture.