The Kookaburras have played out a pulsating contest against fierce rivals Belgium that was decided by a penalty shootout at the Sydney Olympic Park Hockey Centre tonight.
The highly anticipated clash between the world’s top two ranked teams did not disappoint in a replay of last year’s FIH Pro League Grand Final as scores were locked 2-2 at full time.
In his 150th Kookaburras appearance, defender Jeremy Hayward thundered home a penalty corner in the 49th minute to cancel out Thomas Briels’ 18th minute opener, the Belgians taking the initial lead after the ball fortuitously came back off the post to allow the Belgian captain to poke it home from chest height.
Then having drawn level and arrested the momentum, Tom Craig converted a penalty stroke after Lachlan Sharp was brought down in the circle two minutes after Hayward’s goal to put the Kookaburras in the box seat.
A top drawer save from Andrew Charter kept the Kookaburras in front as time ticked down, but in a titanic, high quality contest that saw tempers threaten to boil over throughout, Felix Denayer pounced on a goalmouth scramble with a minute remaining to make it 2-2 and send the match to a penalty shootout.
As both sides took a breath, it was Belgium that prevailed 4-2 in the shootout in a classic early Pro League season showdown.
Reflecting on the match, which was the Kookaburras’ first international since September last year, Head Coach Colin Batch found plenty of positives.
“I think both teams were a bit cautious in the first quarter and then Belgium got on top in the second quarter, so we needed to change that at half time and we were able to do that without really hurting them on the scoreboard,” said Batch.
“Full marks to the guys to get in front but it was disappointing that we didn’t finish the game on a positive note when they scored with just over a minute to play and then went on to win the shootout.
“But overall it’s a good start for us. We’re certainly in a better position than this time last year so I think we can go into tomorrow’s game confident.
“There is more belief in the group and for the first game we weren’t sure what level we would be at and we found out tonight…Belgium are a good side and we’ve got to keep coming up with ways to score against them and defend well.”
The teams will return to do it all again tomorrow in what will be Matt Swann’s 200th game.
Tickets for tomorrow’s second match against Belgium and the double headers against Great Britain on 1/2 February are available now through Ticketek.
Kookaburras 2 (Hayward 49’, Craig 51’)
Belgium 2 (Briels 18’, Denayer 59’)
Belgium wins 4-2 on penalties
@ Sydney Olympic Park Hockey Centre
Kookaburras: 1.Lachlan SHARP, 2.Tom CRAIG, 5.Tom WICKHAM, 6.Matthew DAWSON. 9.Jacob ANDERSON, 11.Eddie OCKENDEN, 12.Jake WHETTON, 15.Josh SIMMONDS, 16.Tim HOWARD, 17.Aran ZALEWSKI (c), 20.Matthew SWANN, 22.Flynn OGILVIE, 23.Daniel BEALE, 26.Dylan WOTHERSPOON, 29.Tim BRAND, 30.Andrew CHARTER (gk), 32.Jeremy HAYWARD
Unused substitute: 24.Tyler LOVELL (gk)
Belgium: 4.Arthur van DOREN, 7.John-John DOHMEN, 8.Florent van AUBEL, 10.Cedric CHARLIER, 13.Nicolas de KERPEL, 15.Emmanuel STOCKBROEKX, 16.Alexander HENDRICKX, 17.Thomas BRIELS (c), 19.Felix DENAYER, 21.Vincent VANASCH (gk), 22.Simon GOUGNARD, 23.Arthur de SLOOVER, 24.Antoine KINA, 25.Loick LUYPAERT, 26.Victor WEGNEZ, 27.Tom BOON, 32.Tanguy COSYNS
Unused substitute: 2.Loic van DOREN (gk)
FIH Pro League 2020 matches – Sydney Olympic Park Hockey Centre
Sunday 26 January
Kookaburras v Belgium (5:30pm local)
Saturday 1 February
Kookaburras v Great Britain (4:00pm local)
Sunday 2 February
Kookaburras v Great Britain (3:00pm local)
Click here for a full list of the Kookaburras’ FIH Pro League 2020 fixtures.