The Kookaburras advanced into the final of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup on Thursday night with a game in hand courtesy of a gritty 3-1 victory over trans-Tasman rivals, the Black Sticks.
Australia are on top of points table with 12 points from 4 wins in as many matches, followed by New Zealand at 9 points and Korea at 7 Points. Winner of Korea and New Zealand league match on Saturday will advance to final against Australia, however, draw is good enough for Kiwis to reach the final.
Earlier in the day, Korea defeated the hosts Malaysia by 3-2 to keep their chances alive for finals and India defeated Canada by 5-3 to earn their first win of the tournament.
Three goals in a clinical nine minute period of the second quarter was enough to earn victory as Dylan Wotherspoon, Jamie Dwyer and Jeremy Hayward struck. Black Sticks Andy Hayward pulled one back from the penalty spot shortly after half time but the world champions maintained the two goal deficit.
Speaking after the match, Kookaburras Assistant Coach Paul Gaudoin said, “It was a typical Australia-New Zealand match. It was tough, an absolute grind. They know how we play, we know how they play. We lacked the intensity of the day before. It’s difficult to get up for back-to-back matches but it was the same for New Zealand. Overall, we’re pleased we managed to grind out a result.”
Black Sticks Head coach Colin Batch said while the result wasn’t what they had hoped for, it was pleasing to be able to keep the game so close against the world number one side. “We had a really good first quarter and created some excellent scoring chances that we unfortunately weren’t able to convert. Australia responded very strongly in the second quarter but it was pleasing to be able to come back into the game after halftime and still be in with a chance. Our focus now is on preparing well for Korea on Saturday, we need to get a result there to make sure we are playing for a shot at the title,” he said
Western Australian Aran Zalewski celebrated his 50th appearance for Australia in the match, which burst into action two minutes into the second quarter when birthday boy Dylan Wotherspoon, 22, scored to give the Kookaburras the lead.
Seven minutes later Jamie Dwyer continued his incredible run of form, scoring for the fourth consecutive match to take his tally for the tournament to seven, doubling Australia’s advantage.
And defender Jeremy Hayward, who made his international debut at the same tournament a year ago, made it 3-0 with a powerful penalty corner conversion, his first goal of the tournament.
The Black Sticks were handed an opportunity to get back into the match two minutes after half time when a penalty corner hit an Australian defender on the line. Kiwi Andy Hayward slotted home the resulting penalty stroke but it was to be their only goal.
The result qualifies the Kookaburras for Sunday’s final with a round-robin match against India on Saturday still to come. New Zealand remain the favourites to meet them in the final but could still lose out to Korea should the Koreans beat Malaysia and then beat the Kiwis on Saturday.
Looking ahead to the weekend, Gaudoin said Australia would not think about Sunday’s final ahead of their clash with India on Saturday.
He commented, “It’s a classic case of not looking beyond the next game. India are playing reasonably well. The probably haven’t had the results they’ve deserved here so far.”
Under the stewardship of new coach, Dutchman Paul van Ass, the Indians enjoyed their first win of the tournament on Thursday, beating Canada 5-3 having previously drawn with Korea on the opening day. Kookaburras captain, Mark Knowles, will make his 250th appearance for Australia in Saturday’s match.
The Kookaburras’ fifth match of the Sultan Azlan Shah will be against India on Saturday at 6:10pm AEST / 4:10pm AWST. The match will be shown on live on Eurosport (Foxtel Ch 511). After a rest day tomorrow, the Black Sticks face Korea in their final round robin match at 10pm on Saturday night (NZ time), with live coverage on SKY Sport 6.