Australia vs New Zealand

For the first time since 1988, the Kookaburras have won their first four matches of the Olympic Games. Photo: Kookaburras - Twitter

Oceania rivals Australia and New Zealand fiercely battled, with Australia prevailing to keep its winning streak and Hockey gold hopes alive.

Australia defeated Trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand tonight to remain undefeated and on top of the table in Pool A in the Men’s Hockey at Tokyo 2020.

You can be assured that the Australia New Zealand match-up will always produce exciting Hockey matches, as New Zealand’s defence is a perfect match for Australia’s attack. Although the final score was 4-2 to Australia, it did not do justice to the efforts of New Zealand.

It wasn’t easy for the Kookaburras to maintain their perfect record as the Blacksticks delivered an inspiring, brave performance to hold down Australia’s relentless attack.

Australia had 21 attacking circle penetrations in total, and the damage on the scoreboard could’ve been far greater than the four goals conceded, however, New Zealand’s renowned defensive unit did well to hold the Aussies at bay until the floodgates opened late in the final quarter.

The man at the centre of this was Kiwi goalkeeper Leon Hayward, who saved three of the four shots at goal, including two penalty corners.

Many of the Australians, including his brother Jeremy Hayward, took aim but were quickly shut down as Leon Hayward did well to keep his eye on the ball, especially among traffic.

New Zealand captain Blair Tarrant led the backline well and deserves a mention too.

Much of the play was down Australia’s attacking end, due to the intense battle between the two evenly matched lines. As a result, Australia had 14 shots compared to New Zealand’s four – all of which were taken by Kane Russell.

For the most part of the first quarter, the two sides spent time feeling each other out, until Blake Gover stripped Russell of the ball and sent it Tim Brand‘s way where he struck first with the first goal for the game at the nine-minute mark.

However, Australia had little time to enjoy the lead as New Zealand’s Russell capitalised on a penalty corner – sending the ball in the air over keeper Andrew Charter‘s shoulder into the top corner.

Several more opportunities to Australia way but nice little defensive plays from New Zealand kept the ball out of goals.

One of these chances happened in the second quarter as Govers brought down an overhead delivery in the circle, but was quickly shut down by Dane Lett, who tackled before a shot could be taken.

Brand, Govers, Daniel Beale, and Tom Wickham also had chances through the quarter but were thwarted on the line by Hayward or another New Zealand defender.

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Off the halftime break, the dynamic of the game had not really changed. Australia continued to press into the attacking area, but New Zealand could neutralise them in seconds.

Beale and Flynn Ogilvie had some excellent efforts throughout the game to open up scoring shots for their teammates.

In the 37th minute, Beale took off down the pitch after winning the ball back with an impressive piece of stick work, where he found Lachlan Sharp who attempted to fire the ball home but missed as the ball was hit by a defender.

The physicality and intensity of the contest were on show as four green cards, two apiece, were given to either side. Not even the opposition being a player down was enough to secure a goal for either side.

The Australian attack, especially Govers who finished with five shots on goal kept trying to break the tie and the game open but were unable to do so until the final 10 minutes.

It was Brand who kickstarted the flurry of scoring in the final quarter, as he broke through a resisting defence to record his, and Australia’s second.

Five minutes later, Govers couldn’t resist joining in, putting the Kookaburras two goals up with five minutes to go. The Australian striker is now on six goals for the Games and is well-positioned to finish as Tokyo’s top goal scorer.

A missed ball from Hayward resulted in Tom Wickham flicking in Australia’s final goal at close range to take them to a three-goal lead.

New Zealand’s Russell had one last successful push-for goal from a penalty corner awarded in the dying minutes of the game, but his second goal of the match was not enough to get his team over the line.

In one of the most exciting Hockey matches of the Games so far, New Zealand refused to back down against Australia as expected. Ultimately the Australians go into the final two matches of the Pool stages four-and-zero and have all but secured the top spot on the table.

New Zealand was a fierce competitor against the world number one side, and should not be discounted based on its win-loss record. If it can hold off Australia’s attack and concede the least amount of goals to Australia, then there is plenty to hold in good stead.

In the final matches of the Pool stages on Friday, Australia takes on their final opponent, Spain while New Zealand has Argentina as the Men’s Hockey continues in Tokyo.

Final Result: Australia 4 – 2 New Zealand

Australia goals: Brand 9′, 50′, Govers 55′, Wickham 57′

New Zealand goals: Russell 13′, 58′

Pool tables

Pool A

1. Australia412400218
2. India3621079
3. Spain4412189
4. New Zealand441211012
5. Argentina3411157
6. Japan41031713
The top four proceed to finals

Pool B

1. Belgium39300156
2. Germany36210135
3. The Netherlands36210108
4. Great Britain3621077
5. South Africa30030817
6. Canada30030414
The top four proceed to finals

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