The Kookaburras have been forced into a live game three with New Zealand in their Olympic qualifying series after the Black Sticks fought back to salvage a 2-2 draw in Rockhampton tonight.
The Australians looked to be in cruise control when they took a 2-0 lead into half time thanks to goals from Blake Govers and Tom Wickham.
However, the Black Sticks showed their mettle with a third quarter surge which saw them erase the deficit, meaning the best-of-three series remains alive heading into the final match tomorrow.
After winning the opening game 4-0 on Thursday, the Kookaburras need only to win, draw or not lose by a margin of five goals or more to qualify for Tokyo 2020 and claim the Oceania Cup.
Knowing the Black Sticks would need to bring an attacking mindset, the Kookaburras showed slick ball movement and composure in the opening quarter, defender Matt Dawson making a classy and crucial interception to prevent a one on one opportunity.
Kookaburras goalkeeper Tyler Lovell made a fine save from a penalty corner early in the second quarter and the home side was able to capitalise at the attacking end through a fine bit of skill from Govers.
Tim Howard sent a ball into the circle with purpose and Govers was perfectly positioned as he produced quick hands to send his shot into the back of the net.
Four minutes later it was 2-0 when another searching pass into the circle from the left somehow bobbled past Flynn Ogilvie and two Kiwi defenders, allowing Wickham to wind up and rocket the ball home.
The Kookaburras had a foot in the door to next year’s Olympics but within two minutes of the start of the third quarter the Kiwis had one back when Jacob Smith managed to scramble the ball past Lovell.
Then in the 41st minute scores were level, Kane Russell sending his drag flick low and hard to Lovell’s right, the keeper unable to keep it out despite an outstretched leg.
Jacob Anderson missed a chance to put the Kookaburras back in front when his flick on from a Wickham pass was saved by George Enersen in what would be the New Zealand keeper’s final action of the night as the Black Sticks withdrew their keeper to send on another outfield player for the final two minutes in search of a winner.
But a winner would not eventuate for either side as the match finished all square.
“It’s a bit of a shame we couldn’t wrap it up,” said Kookaburras co-captain Eddie Ockenden.
“Being two-nil up, we were playing ok without playing our best, so it was disappointing that we couldn’t wrap it up being in a good position…we just didn’t finish the game off well enough.”
“New Zealand is a quality team and they were just looking for a few opportunities to get back into it. They probably did lift a little bit in the second half and we probably didn’t defend as well as we have been. You can’t let good teams get into your circle.”
“I think we still had a lot of possession in our forward half so we’ll be looking to attack the circle a bit more tomorrow and create more opportunities.”
“We were in a strong position after Thursday so while it was a draw tonight and we couldn’t wrap it up, we’re in a good position. But it’s one of those things…it doesn’t come easy.”
Kookaburras 2 (Govers 20’, Wickham 24’)
New Zealand 2 (Smith 32’, Russell 41’)
Kalka Shades Hockey Fields, Rockhampton