The Kookaburras have finished on top of Pool A at the FINTRO Hockey World League Semi-Final in Antwerp, Belgium. Riding on Chris Ceriello’s perfomance, Australia defeated India by 6-2 in their last pool match.
Chris Ciriello’s hat-trick underpinned the result in a match that saw Jamie Dwyer find the roof of the net with a superb tomahawk strike from the top of the circle with Aran Zalewski and Kieran Govers also weighing in with goals. Ramandeep Singh and Birendra Lakra scored one each for Gold Medalists of Asian Games 2014.
The result, 6-2 win over India, sets up Kookaburras a must-win quarter final clash against the fourth placed team in Pool B – currently Ireland, who are still to play hosts Belgium today (02:00am AEST, Monday 29 June). India will face third place team in Pool B i.e. Malaysia currently. Anything less than an Irish win will mean they face the Kookaburras in Wednesday’s quarter final. An Irish victory over Belgium would pit the Kookaburras against Malaysia and then, India would face Ireland or Belgium depending on margin of the victory.
The match also saw, India’s one of most experienced player in the current squad, Gurbaj Singh playing his 200th international match. 26-year-old Gurbaj, who made his international debut in 2006 Doha Asian Games, is a regular member of national hockey team and has been part of the team in various international tournaments. He was a part of the winning team in the 2007 Asia Cup in Chennai. He remained in the team and represented India at the 2010 Hero World Cup in New Delhi, 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games in China and the 2012 London Olympics. In 2014, Gurbaj was a key member of the Gold medal winning India team in 2014 Incheon Asian Games and 4th Place-finished national team in the Hero Men’s Champions Trophy 2014 in Bhubaneswar.
The fast starting Kookaburras broke the deadlock through Aran Zalewski’s slapped finish from the middle of the circle after excellent build-up play from Jamie Dwyer, who found Zalewski with time and space.
Dwyer then went from provider to scorer as he unleashed a stunning tomahawk strike into the roof of the net for 2-0 after being sent through by a pin point long pass from Blake Govers.
Jake Whetton was a constant menace to the Indian defence, which struggled to cope with his close control and jinking skills in the opening half. Twice he was denied by Indian goalkeeper Sreejesh before Chris Ciriello made it 3-0 from a penalty corner. Sreejesh saved the initial flick from Ciriello but the ball dropped back to the Victorian who calmly picked his spot in the bottom corner.
Ciriello doubled his tally shortly after half time with a flick that deflected into the left side of the goal before India responded immediately from a penalty corner of their own as Birendra Lakra scored on the rebound after Tyler Lovell’s initial save.
Kieran Govers smashed home from close range for 5-1 and Ciriello completed his hat-trick shortly before three quarter time, the ball finding the bottom corner off the glove of Sreejesh in the Indian goal.
India bagged a late consolation on the break through Ramandeep Singh, who tapped home after Dharamvir Singh had rounded Andrew Charter in the Australian goal but by then the outcome of the match was all but settled.
Kookaburras coach Graham Reid was pleased with the performance and the improvement from the previous match against Poland.
He said, “That’s the sort of performance you need to have against these guys because they have improved and they are now a top nation. Every time you play them you need to make sure all your t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted. I was pleased with the effort and the energy that we played with in the first half. We took our foot off a bit in the third quarter but then we came back again and that was a really pleasing thing. We got a little bit frustrated but we got on top of that frustration, which we didn’t do against Poland. And then we came back again.”
Hat-trick hero Chris Ciriello said, “It was a tough game. We had to fight pretty hard to get through. I’m happy enough today a couple of corners came off, which was nice. We worked pretty hard, we attacked down the outside and we went down the middle and they didn’t have many answers.”