Hockeyroos win opening Olympic qualifier

Kaitlin Nobbs of the Hockeyroos and Bogdana Sadovaia of Russia chase the ball. Picture: Will Russell/Getty Images
Kaitlin Nobbs of the Hockeyroos and Bogdana Sadovaia of Russia chase the ball. Picture: Will Russell/Getty Images

THE Hockeyroos are closing in on a Tokyo 2020 Olympics berth after securing a hard-fought 4-2 win over Russia in the first leg of their sudden-death qualifying series in Perth.

Australia’s women were a class above their opponents, dominating general play and capitalising on a hot start on Friday.

But the world No.2-ranked Hockeyroos were forced to do things harder than they would have liked against a team they comfortably outmatched on paper.

The two sides will meet again on Saturday at Perth Hockey Stadium, with the winner on aggregate across the two matches to progress to Tokyo.

Alina Khalimova of Russia passes the ball. Picture: Will Russell/Getty Images

A series win over world No.19 Russia would spare some blushes for the Hockeyroos, who failed to earn automatic passage to Tokyo after they lost to New Zealand on goal difference in the best-of-three Oceania Cup last month.

Defeat would have left Australia’s women at risk of missing the Olympics for the first time.

It took just 39 seconds for the Hockeyroos to get on the board through a deft finish from Emily Chalker, and the hosts made it two from two minutes when Amy Lawton seized on a deflection on the goal line.

Australia were in command but Russian captain Bogdana Sadovaia pegged one back against the flow and the scoring dried up in a goalless second quarter.

Georgia Wilson of the Hockeyroos controls the ball. Picture: Will Russell/Getty Images

The Hockeyroos had plenty of chances but couldn’t finish their work, with goalkeeper Viktorria Aleksandrina putting in some heroic efforts for Russia.

Aleksandrina made two spectacular saves in quick succession before teammate Alina Khalimova levelled scores at 2-2 with a diving finish off a penalty corner.

But Grace Stewart’s close-range finish put Australia back in front and Chalker scored her second at the start of the fourth quarter to restore the buffer.

The Hockeyroos won back-to-back Olympic gold at the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Games but have not finished higher than fifth at any of the subsequent editions.