It was victory out of the dream book for Australian men at The Hague as the curtain came down in the Rabobank Hockey World Cup on Sunday. Famously known in the hockey parlance as the Kookaburras, Australia’s men’s team went to the World Cup final with the single-mindedness of a purpose. Their opponents were considered just as powerful before the start of the final but no one thought of the massive and utterly dominant victory for the Kookaburras. Many fans in the jam-packed Kyocera stadium lost their breath in shock to see the home team suffer such complete decimation. They came back with great hopes after watching yesterday’s final in which their women had defeated the Australians and their sense of jubilation had barely receded. Also, as the match began, the first goal came from the host nation to raise hope of a rare double at the World Cup. But the Australians had other ideas.
As has been their trend in this World Cup, the Kookaburras began by launching the initial assault. For the first five minutes, the Netherlands half became a battleground and the Dutch were pushed to a hilt. Just as the Australians were searching for an early lead, Billy Bakker, the quicksilver Dutch led an unexpected counter-attack and forced a couple of penalty corners against the Australians. Brilliant saves from Andrew Charter, the Australian goalkeeper, foiled the Dutch attempts, coming from the drag flicks of Mink van der Weerden. The huge partisan crowd was on its feet with hope. After avoiding the early blushes, the Australians returned to their attack but couldn’t find the target. In the meantime, Netherlands’ mercurial forward Hertzberger found a rare opportunity as he picked up the ball just outside the 25 meter line and looked around. He had somehow given a slip to his Australian marker and after moving a little closer to the goal, produced an ingenious back-hand strike, which found the bottom left corner of the goal. He knew he had done it, as he wheeled around in a jiffy to break into a celebratory run. The Kyocera Stadium began to rock as the fans screamed in frenzy. But at that time, no one would have known that it was the only time for the Dutch fans’ delirious celebrations.
The defending champions just shrugged off the early deficit and came back to the Dutch territory with renewed vengeance. The Kookaburras added vigor to their speed and attacked the Dutch penalty area with an unbelievable force. Their reward came soon, when they earned a penalty corner in the 20th minute. Chris Ciriello produced a crafty drag-flick that just brushed the toe of the shot-stopper Jaap Stockmann before going into the goal. The equalizer brought the game to a pace even faster than before. In the 24th minute, Govers did for Australia what Hertzberger had done for the Dutch early on. When he saw the ball coming his way, he didn’t bother to stop it. Instead he oriented himself and unleashed such a powerful hit that left the Dutch goalkeeper gaping at the spectacularly whizzing shot shaking the net behind him. The incredible dominance of the Australians can be gauzed by the fact that they penetrated the Dutch penalty area 17 times in the first half as against 3 times by the Dutch. The teams went into halftime with Australia leading 2-1.
After the break, Australians went into a higher gear with their superior play. At the beginning of the second half, Simon Orchard, who was playing his 150th game, ran down the right flank and sent a fine pass to Turner, who fired from close range to make it 3-1 for his team. In next to no time, Australia earned two more penalty corners and Chris Ciriello converted them both by his deadly drag flicks to earn a hat-trick for himself and a 5-1 lead for Australia.
Australia’s final goal of the match had magic written all over it. It came from Jamie Dwyer, one of Australia’s most prolific scorers and five times winner of the FIH player of the year award. Dwyer moved brilliantly with the ball in a classical way along the back-line and with full control behind the ball, sent it into the goal, before anyone could realize what he was up to. While the Dutch were thoroughly outplayed, they didn’t stop fighting to the very end. They came to reducing the deficit, after earning a penalty corner at closing stages. But despite the rocket-like shot from Van der Weerden, Andrew Charter brought off a superb save. The match ended with a truly wonderful performance from the Kookaburras, who had also won the 2010 hockey World Cup at New Delhi. Two Australians received the individual awards. Captain Mark Knowles was named Rabobank Player of the Tournament and Jeremy Hayward received the Hero Junior Player award.