Australia’s men and women both recorded important wins to maintain their high placings in the FIH Pro League standings, overcoming the respective challenges of Spain and USA at the Sydney Olympic Park Hockey Centre.
A fourth quarter strike from Daniel Beale gave Australia’s men a narrow 2-1 triumph over Spain to record their third successive victory in the FIH Pro League, with the Kookaburras now starting to gather real momentum following a patchy start to this competition. Their shoot-out loss against the Netherlands and a 4-1 defeat at the hands of world champions Belgium are now a distant memory, with wins against Germany, Great Britain and now Spain has seen them rise to second place in the men’s standings as the race for the all-important top four finish continues.
Australia’s women scored twice in the final quarter through Jodie Kenny and Mariah Williams to grind out a 2-1 success over a USA team that were greatly improved from their recent 5-0 home defeat at the hands of the Netherlands. The Hockeyroos created numerous chances but failed to make the most of their opportunities, not helped by a sensational goalkeeping performance from USA’s Jessica Jecko, who was named Player of the Match. The result moves Australia into first position in the women’s standings with 77.8 percent, having claimed 14 of the 18 points available in their matches played so far.
The opening quarter of the men’s match between Australia (FIH World Ranking: 2) and Spain (FIH World Ranking: 9) was dominated by the Kookaburras, although clear-cut scoring opportunities were few and far between thanks to a disciplined defensive performance from a Red Sticks team playing their first match away from home after some fine performances in Valencia. In-form Australia attacker Jacob Anderson had the only real chance of the period when he was picked out by a disguised pass from Tom Craig, but Anderson’s attempted backhand effort failed to test goalkeeper Mario Garin.
The first mark on the scoreboard arrived midway through the second period when Lachlan Sharp pounced from close range to flick high into the Spanish net. It was a goal that sparked a near immediate reaction from a Spanish side that always looked dangerous on the counter-attack, with Pau Quemada touching home a close-range equaliser after Marc Bolto’s shot squeezed between the pads of Australian shot-stopper Tyler Lovell.
The European visitors could easily have taken a lead into both half time and the third quarter breaks, with Joan Tarres hitting the post at the end of the second quarter before Lovell produced an outrageous third quarter save from Xavi Lleonart’s deflection, with the goalkeeper changing direction and flicking out a stick to stick to stop the ball sailing into the top left corner.
Those missed opportunities proved costly two minutes into the final quarter when Australia scored the winner through Daniel Beale, who made a late run across the face of the Spanish goal to fire home a pass from Dylan Wotherspoon.
“Spain have had some good results so far in the Pro League and certainly pushed us all the way today”, said Australia’s Aran Zalewski, who was named Player of the Match. “We converted late in the game to put us 2-1 in front so I’m really happy with the result. It was a tough start [to the Pro League], losing to Holland and Belgium in the first weekend, but we have turned the results around a little bit. We’d still like to keep improving and playing better but three wins is great and we look forward to coming back to Sydney in a couple of weeks.”
Despite the defeat, Spain captain Marc Salles said: “It was really tough, it is very hot here in Sydney, but I think we fought to the end so we are happy. We have to think now about [our match against] New Zealand next Friday [in Auckland]. Against Australia to only concede two goals is good because they never stop, they always keep going to try to score goals, so I think we had a very good game with our defending.”
Australia (WR:3) came into their women’s meeting against USA (WR:12) as heavy favourites and their dominance in the opening minutes of the first quarter against the Americans certainly justified that label. However, the team coached by Paul Gaudoin could not translate their supremacy into goals and found themselves trailing 1-0 when Dannielle Grega weaved her way into the circle before her attempted pass somehow crept past Australia goalkeeper Ashlee Wells and into the bottom corner.
It was a goal that seemed to come out of nowhere, but laid the foundations for a terrific defensive display by a team that had suffered a 5-0 home defeat at the hands of world champions the Netherlands in their recent home FIH Pro League fixture in Winston-Salem. USA goalkeeper Jessica Jecko was at the centre of everything, producing numerous world class saves as Australia – the only team to have beaten the top-ranked Netherlands in the Pro League – threw everything at their opponents in search of a leveller. Arguably Jecko’s best save came from an Australian penalty corner, with the 24-year-old diving low to her right to tip Jodie Kenny’s powerful drag-flick around the post.
Kenny finally broke American resistance one minute into the fourth quarter with an unstoppable penalty corner drag-flick to Jecko’s opposite side, with the winning goal arriving six minutes later from what is becoming a very reliable source. Mariah Williams scored her third goal in her last four matches with a brilliant strike on the turn, crashing a ferocious effort that clipped the pads of Jecko but was only ever destined to hit the backboard.
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t finish in the circle how we wanted to as we created a lot of scoring opportunities and didn’t capitalise on that”, said Australia captain Georgina Morgan after the match. “Credit to the girls for getting the job done when you are not playing well. That is what you want to be happening, so credit to them for grinding it out and getting the win in the end.”
When asked her thoughts about USA conceding twice in the final quarter, Player of the Match Jessica Jecko said: “I don’t think anything went wrong, I think we just needed to clean up our defence a little bit and try to create a few more scoring opportunities. It was a great attack by Australia, and they were putting a lot of pressure on us, so it is something for us to learn from.”
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