The Kookaburras turned up the intensity in the final quarter with three late goals to comfortably beat the Black Sticks 4-2 in Tokyo early this morning.
The Kiwis had stuck with the world no.2 and Pool A leaders until the 50th minute before Australia went up a gear and added three goals to remain unbeaten in their Olympic campaign.
The Black Sticks are now likely to need some points from their final pool match against Argentina tomorrow night to secure a quarterfinals spot. New Zealand, Spain and Argentina are all sitting on four points chasing the last two play-off spots.
The Black Sticks had previously drawn 2-2 with hosts Japan, collected a 4-3 victory over Spain and a 3-2 loss to India.
Black Stick Kane Russell, who added two more goals today to take his Olympic tally to four, said it was a shame the team couldn’t hold on for a draw after keeping an on-fire Kookaburras team to just a solitary goal for those first 50 minutes.
“They’re a really classy team and we took a lot of confidence from the pre-Olympic matches with them. It’s just a shame we couldn’t hold out. I think we ran out of legs in the end there.”
Russell praised the team’s defensive effort.
“We’d done a lot of work on our press. We had our ways of dealing with them and we also just defended really hard. I think the boys showed a lot of urgency.”
Today they were without vice-captain Hugo Inglis, four-time Olympian Shea McAleese and George Muir all with hamstring injuries. Canterbury defender David Brydon came into the match day squad for his first game in Tokyo.
In today’s trans-Tasman clash, Australia opened the scoring in the ninth minute with Tim Brand immediately converting a defensive turnover from the Black Sticks into a goal. Russell evened things up just before the quarter break with his trademark penalty corner drag flick.
Despite numerous shots on goal and penalty corners, the score remained at 1-1 going in to the half-time break and through until the last 10 minutes of the game, with Black Sticks goalkeeper Leon Hayward ensuring his team stayed in the match.
In the 50th minute Brand collected his second goal of the match to put the Kookaburras ahead, and then he delivered the second to Blake Govers on the left post to give Australia a 3-1 lead.
A fourth goal to Tom Wickham off a penalty corner rebound put the result beyond doubt, with a late penalty corner goal to Russell merely a consolation.
While the final scorecard won’t make happy bedtime reading for the Black Sticks, they will be pleased with their defensive efforts against a confident Australia side who made 21 circle entries, had nine shots on goal and five penalty corners.
Australia 4 (Tim Brand 9 min and 50 min, Blake Govers 55 min, Tom Wickham 57 min)
New Zealand 2 (Kane Russell 13 min and 58 min) Halftime: 1-1
New Zealand Men: Steve Edwards (North Harbour); Leon Hayward (GK), Jared Panchia (Auckland); Nic Woods (Waikato); Sean Findlay, Dylan Thomas (Hawke’s Bay); Nick Wilson (Manawatu); Stephen Jenness, Dane Lett, Jacob Smith (Wellington); David Brydon, Sam Lane (Canterbury); Nick Ross, Kane Russell, Blair Tarrant – captain (Otago).
The Black Sticks face defending Olympic champions Argentina tomorrow at 10pm (NZ time) in their final pool match.
Russell added if they can repeat their efforts against Australia they should be take three points tomorrow.
“I think if we play like that against Argentina we should be able to put them away and maybe secure third spot in the pool.”
“For one of these teams it could be their last game so everyone will leave everything on the paddock.”