The formbook had them down as the favourites. For skipper Jamie Dwyer, who will be hoping to celebrate his 31st birthday on the eve of the World Cup final with an entry into the title round, it was still a good match.
For his team, unfortunately, it was not. England, ranked No. 6 in the world to the Kookaburras’ 2, and more importantly, without a win against the Australians in 25 years, beat the men from Down Under 3-2 to cause the first upset of the Hero Honda FIH Hockey World Cup.
It was super Sunday for England as they thrived on the pressure from Australia throughout the match and counterattacked beautifully to capitalise on their chances. Australia came out attacking and dominated play for the first 20 minutes.
While the Australian-England rivalry in hockey is nothing like their famed battle in cricket, it’s not close to friendly by any yardstick. While they did not dominate the rest of the game like they did the initial stages, the Aussies pretty much held sway throughout.
The problem? They muffed chances galore and if great sport moments are helped along by healthy doses of luck — well, the Kookaburras had left their quota behind at the team hotel itself.
They came close to scoring often but, apart from when Dwyer put his team ahead in the 23rd minute, they were, for the most, either thwarted by a robust England defence or their attempts went wide.
James Tindall, recently recovered from a broken foot and doubtful for this tournament till only last week, struck two opportunistic goals on both sides of the break to seal the Australians’ fate after Ashley Jackson had leveled scores for England with a scorching drag flick that soared over the Australian defenders and scorched the net.
Tindall opened his account and put England ahead 2-1 with an indirect attempt off a penalty corner after Jackson had sold the Kookaburras defence a dummy.
Tindall then made it 3-1 in the second half by scoring a fine field goal off a superb counterattack. Dwyer, a two-time FIH World Player of the Year, scored off a penalty corner rebound with around 5 minutes to go but it was too little too late for the Aussies.
In the time since England last won, in 1985, the countries have met 33 times, with Australia winning 28 encounters while five were draws. This one has got to be special.