Hockey men back in business

11 August 2016

HOCKEY: The Australian men’s hockey team’s Olympic dream had new life breathed into it on Wednesday evening as goals from Aran Zalewski and Jake Whetton secured a 2-1 win over Great Britain.

After 207 minutes without a goal, Aran Zalewski – returning from suspension – knocked home Australia’s opener in the 50th minute, much to the relief of coach Graham Reid and the travelling Aussies in the crowd.

Five minutes later, Jake Whetton tapped home on the goal line following a four-on-one breakaway, although Ashley Jackson’s penalty corner strike three minutes from full-time set up a nervy conclusion.

“Relieved is the big feeling,” Reid admitted after the match.

Reid was pleased with the performance – Australia’s best of the tournament so far – and put his side’s positive reaction to their earlier defeats down to the intensive preparation they have undertaken.

“We’ve done a lot of work in the last 48 hours and we’ve done a lot of prep in the last two years, and one of the scenarios was exactly what’s happened,” Reid said.

“It was just [about] putting that plan in place, but the plan is always harder in the cauldron of the Olympic Games.

“Tonight was a very good performance. GB are a world class team, as good as anybody in the competition.”

With Brazil to come on Friday and the anticipation of a quarter-final, Reid said there is still much more to come from Australia.

“We still need to work on our PCA [penalty corner attack], we still need to put the ball in the net and create some better opportunities. With teams crowding the circles it’s a lot harder to penetrate these days,” he said.

Australia began brightly with an intensity missing from their previous two encounters.

Blake Govers and Glenn Turner tested British goalkeeper George Pinner in the opening 20 minutes before GB enjoyed a better spell.

Tim Deavin made amends for a slip at the back with a last ditch recovery tackle early in the third period before the tide turned. Two penalty corners came and went for the Aussies, and Turner blazed high and wide before, at the other end, Andrew Charter crucially saved with his shoulder from Sam Ward.

On the stroke of three-quarter time, Govers, and all those watching in the stadium and at home, thought the NSW youngster had broken the deadlock.

From the rebound of a penalty corner, his stinging shot flew through the glovers of Pinner and bounced down on to the inside of the post and back out along the line. The British defence cleared at the second attempt.

When Britain’s talismanic Ashley Jackson was sent off for a five-minute yellow card suspension, Australia pounced.

Daniel Beale drove along the baseline, cutting the ball back to Zalewski who still had plenty to do to steer it home for 1-0.

No sooner had Jackson returned to play than Michael Hoare was shown a yellow for impeding Turner.

With GB a man down again, Australia broke four-on-one with Whetton, Simon Orchard, Beale and Turner.

With Turner sprawled across the turf as he redirected the pass towards goal, Whetton popped up to ensure it crossed the line, tapping home from mere inches out.

Jackson’s rocket of a penalty corner set up a tense finish as Australia scrambled to clear their lines for a tension-relieving victory and with it, the kiss of life for their Olympic campaign.

“I think out of the last few games we’ve felt like we were playing some pretty good hockey but unfortunately haven’t been able to get the goals in and the wins on the board,” said goal scorer Zalewski.

“So tonight, to come away with a win and myself to knock one in, I’m pretty happy about that, and the boys are up and about and feeling very positive about the rest of the tournament now.”

The result sent the world and Commonwealth champions into third place in Pool A.

With one pool match left to play, against hosts Brazil, their quarter-final destiny is in their own hands.

Britain and New Zealand are the two other teams fighting it out for a quarter-final spot. They play unbeaten Spain and Belgium respectively on Friday.

Australia face Brazil at 8:30pm on Friday (9:30am AEST, Saturday).

Lawrence West

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