AUSTRALIA’S Kookaburras have overcome a giant scare in their quest for hockey gold at Rio, opening their campaign with a 2-1 win over New Zealand.
First half goals to Chris Ciriello and Matt Gohdes set up a 2-0 lead for Australia but the final two periods proved anything but regulation for the medal fancies.
The Black Sticks clawed a goal back in the first minute of the third quarter and then looked to have tied the scores midway through the fourth, but Hugo Inglis’ stunning deflection was disallowed by the video referee.
Australia controlled the midfield throughout the match with West Australian Aran Zalewski’s challenges and strong passes a highlight.
Jake Whetton’s pace and energy also proved a handful and it was his work in the circle to force a penalty corner than led to Australia’s first goal, a low, hard flick by drag flick specialist Ciriello.
But Whetton, who has played locally for Victoria Park Panthers, was one of three Kookaburras shown a green card in the second half as the Black Sticks worked their way back into the match.
Hale Hockey Club’s Fergus Kavanagh was also among those given a two-minute penalty and it was while he was off the field that the game’s most telling controversy ensued.
Young New Zealander Hayden Phillips’ reverse-stick smash across the face of goal was knocked into the net by Inglis, who did well just to avoid being stuck by the fast moving ball let alone net what appeared to be a tying goal.
However, while the Black Sticks celebrated, Australia referred the play to the video referee who upheld their challenge.
Australia’s second goal was scored by Matthew Gohdes with a simple tap in to finish off some trademark Jaime Dwyer brilliance.
Dwyer made something out of nothing after penetrating through through the circle and sending a nifty backstick pass to a well-positioned Gohdes.
The Kookaburras are next in action against Spain on Monday morning (Perth time).