Ipoh: Six-time champions Australia notched up a thrilling 3-2 victory over New Zealand Saturday to set up a summit clash with three-time finalists Malaysia at the Sultan Azlan Shah hockey tournament here Sunday. In the final round robin match New Zealand needed a win to edge out Australia but it was the Kookaburras who had the upper hand as they took their tally to 11 points.
New Zealand finished their engagements with six points. Malaysia made it to the final with a tally of eight points, irrespective of the result against India in the last league match later in the day. Australia began in a stormy fashion and the two penalty corners inside the first five minutes indicated the mood of the team.
Jacob Whetton's twin strikes in the space of two minutes, in the 38th and 39th minutes, put Australia on the driver's seat, while Matt Gohdes took it further away from New Zealand in the 42nd minute with a field goal, his effort the culmination of a neat combo with Daniel Mirecki.
However, it was New Zealand who scored the first goal of the match, much against the run of play. Javed Panchia was excellent in the midfielder and he complemented well the speedy runs of Jacob Smith and Issac Staples in the flanks, giving a harrowing time to Australian goalkeeper Andrew Charter.
From one of their break-away moves, New Zealand forged ahead in style when Issac Staples dribbled his way to prise out the Australian defence and all Jacob Smith had to do was to push into an untenanted goal in the 27th minute. Down 1-3, New Zealand pulled one back in the 55th minute through a neat penalty corner conversion by Cory Bennet.
Such was the Australian domination that it was virtual siege in the rival D. New Zealand got some respite when the heavens opened up and play was suspended for seven minutes. New Zealand defender Blair Hilton was served yellow card because of a bit of rough play in the first half.