The Kookaburras have kept their gold medal hopes alive, defeating European champions the Netherlands in a heart-stopping penalty shoot-out to secure their place in the Olympic Semi Finals in Tokyo.
A shootout was required after scores were tied 2-2 after 60 minutes, neither side able to snatch a winner.
Ironically, it was Dutch-born Australian Tim Brand, who is having a stellar tournament, who set up both of the Kookaburras’ goals for Tom Wickham and sealed victory with the winning penalty after teammates Blake Govers and Flynn Ogilvie also converted their penalties.
Outstanding goalkeeping from two-time Olympian Andrew Charter saw him save seven from nine field attempts from the Netherlands and deny all three Dutchman in the shootout.
The world number one team will head to the semi-finals against Germany with eyes set firmly on the podium to settle some unfinished business after bowing out in the quarters at the Rio Olympics.
Kookaburras Head Coach Colin Batch praised his side’s tenacity under great pressure, applauding Charters’ ability to step-up for big moments in the knock-out encounter.
“Credit to both sides…it’s very demanding, it’s the Olympics, it’s the challenge that we wanted, and we are very pleased with the outcome,” Batch said.
“We are already one step further than the Rio campaign, so we are really pleased to get into the semi-final.
“Many of the guys will be experiencing the semis for the first time. Eddie Ockenden has done everything in his career, and he is so driven and hungry for the next thing, so he is a real driver in our group, as is our other co-captain Aran Zalewski.
“We pride ourselves on going out there and performing well. We know the semi-final will be another step up against Germany and we have to be on top of it.”
Brand, who has scored four goals in the tournament, relished the victory against his hockey-mad birth nation.
“It’s always cool to play the Netherlands and on a big occasion like this was pretty special,” said Brand, who began his hockey career with Ryde-Hunters Hill Hockey Club in Sydney’s north.
“It’s absolutely amazing to be in the semi-finals of an Olympics.
“I don’t think it was our best game, but a win is a win; we grinded for that one.
“We’ve been practicing shoot-outs since the World Cup two years ago…so to get a win here was very pleasing. We are keen for the next one.”
In what has been the most challenging match of the tournament, the Dutch put pressure on from the opening whistle with Charter stepping up to make three saves, two from penalty corners by drag flick specialist Jip Janssen, to stave off an early onslaught.
The Kookaburras had their own opportunities from two penalty corners six minutes into the match, but sharpshooter Govers was unable to beat veteran goalie Pirmin Blaak on both occasions.
Brand proved relentless in attack driving the back line twice before combining with Wickham in the 13th minute, who flicked the ball in to give the Kookaburras a 1-0 lead.
The goal was the fourth of the Tokyo campaign for Wickham, who was a late addition to the team after the IOC expanded team size due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Five penalty corners signalled the intentions of the proud Dutch side in the opening quarter but commitment by Charter and a staunch Australian defence kept them at bay.
The Kookaburras had another chance early in the second quarter through a penalty corner but Jeremy Hayward was unable to capitalise with Blaak stamping his authority in the goal circle.
Outstanding leadership by co-captain Ockenden kept the Kookaburras steady in defence with Jake Whetton, Lachi Sharp, Brand and Zalewski hard-working in attack but without success leaving the score 1-0 at half time.
A controversial umpiring call in the opening minute of the second half – the Australians choosing not to use their referral to dispute the decision – saw Mink van der Weerden convert from what was their sixth penalty corner to level the scores.
Wickham stood up again after a sideline run from playmaker Brand to notch his second in the 38th minute and put the Kookaburras back in command.
Australia owned the ball with 53 per cent possession in the third quarter but the match statistics, which showed equal circle penetrations (11) for both sides, better reflected the determination of the Dutch attack.
A penalty stroke in the final 10 minutes of the game, awarded as the result of an infringement during an attacking penalty corner, helped the Netherlands to level with veteran with Jeroen Herzberger outclassing Charter.
With the scores level at full time, the match was forced to penalties, the pressure mounting in what was a remarkable and nail-bitting playoff.
The Netherlands won the toss with Herzberge opening the shootout, but the seasoned Dutchman failed to beat the in-form Charter in their one-on-one encounter.
Govers responded confidently knocking in a spectacular reverse stick nt. A shot wide of the goal from Robbert Kemperman, followed by a successful Flynn Ogilvie penalty made it 2-0.
Charter then outplayed Jonas de Geus as the Dutch struggled to keep their Olympic hopes alive, and it was left for Brand to seal the victory with a reverse stick conversion to send the Kookaburras into the final four.
Australia will face Germany in the semi-final on Tuesday after they defeated Argentina 3-1.
Kookaburras 2 (Wickham 13’/38’)
Netherlands 2 (van der Weerden 32’, Hertzberger 50’)
Kookaburras win shootout 3-0
@ Oi Stadium, Tokyo
Kookaburras: 1.Lachlan Sharp, 5.Tom Wickham, 6.Matthew Dawson, 10.Josh Beltz, 11.Eddie Ockenden (c), 12.Jake Whetton, 13.Blake Govers, 14.Dylan Martin, 15.Josh Simmonds, 16.Tim Howard, 17.Aran Zalewski, 22.Flynn Ogilvie, 23.Daniel Beale, 29.Tim Brand, 30.Andrew Charter (gk), 32.Jeremy Hayward