Penalty Shootout Drama denies Kookaburras retribution win over Belgium

Published Mon 03 Jun 2024

A re-match between the Tokyo Olympic gold and silver medallists, in front of a hostile Belgian crowd, was always going to be a fiery affair.

And it certainly delivered on that, with a story vastly different from their opening 1-5 loss to Belgium on the opening day. The Kookaburras were coming off a thrilling, confidence-boosting win over Argentina and held a lead over the hosts for much of the match.

Out with a vengeance to claim a win in a long-standing rivalry rich with history, Australia had momentum from the very first penalty corner they earned in the opening minute.

Belgium's goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch made a couple of great saves early to hold off the Kookaburras approach but eventually, the penalty corner would go Australia's way, and the way of Blake Govers once again, scoring for the second time in less than 24 hours.

Govers' ever-reliable striking drag flick kickstarted a goal-scoring frenzy, with three goals in three minutes. 

Belgium scored next off of their first penalty corner of the match before Australia hit straight back, this time through Jake Whetton with a fine ball from Flynn Ogilvie.

In the second quarter, Australia took a healthy 3-1 lead, with a great penalty corner going the way of Australia. Nathan Ephraums' persistence finished off the goal after it bounced off the solid Belgium defence. 

A roaring, sold-out Belgium crowd got behind their team in the second half as their side desperately tried to get back in the match and it paid off with Belgium scoring a double within two minutes to level the scores. 

With less than 10 minutes on the clock, the Kookaburras found a way to regain the lead again, this time through Lachlan Sharp who had been threatening to score for the entire match. His incredible flick shot, full of power, sailed straight into the top right of the net. 

With less than 120 seconds remaining, Belgium levelled and sent the match to a shootout.

The Kookaburras got off to a clean start with two goals from Tim Brand and Flynn Ogilvie heaping the pressure on Belgium after Aussie goalie Andrew Charter saved the first shot.

But after a few misses and a VAR call that didn't go Australia's way, all the pressure landed on Tom Craig and the Belgium goalkeeper was having a great outing.

"I'm not a big fan of fan of the shootout," Jake Whetton admitted post-match, after watching it unfold with his head down from afar.

"They're a quality team, as are we, and it's nice to get a little bit of vision of them. They saw us and we saw them so and we know we have to play them in a few months time... We certainly played a lot better than game one against them. 

"We matched their speed and their intensity from Game One, which we're really happy about. Obviously, the outcome at the end of the game was one that we'll look back at with a bit of disappointment.

"It's clear that when we play at our best it's quite hard to stop and I think they found it hard to stop tonight, we just have to clean up a few things to not let them back in the game and go from there," he added.

The Kookaburras now head to London for the last leg of Season 5 of the FIH Pro League with matches against Great Britain and Germany. Game one against Great Britain hits off at 11.30pm AEST.

Kookaburras v Belgium
Kookaburras: 4 (Blake Govers 12' (PC), Jake Whetton 14' (FG), Nathan Ephraums 19' (PC), Lachlan Sharp 51' (FG))
Belgium: 4 (Tom Boon 13' (PC), Nicolas de Kerpel 42' (FG), Alexander Hendrickx 43' (PC), Forent van Aubel 58' (FG)) 
In Antwerp, Belgium

Kookaburras: 6. Matt Dawson, 7. Nathan Ephraums, 10. Joshua Beltz, 11. Eddie Ockenden, 13. Blake Govers, 16. Tim Howard, 17. Aran Zalewski (c), 20. Ky Willott, 22. Flynn Ogilvie, 29. Tim Brand, 30. Andrew Charter, 1. Lachlan Sharp, 2. Tom Craig, 3. Corey Weyer, 4. Jake Harvie, 5. Tom Wickham, 8. Johan Durst (gk), 12. Jake Whetton