The Kookaburras and Belgium have added another absorbing chapter to their intriguing recent rivalry after playing out a nine-goal thriller that saw the hosts prevail 5-4 in Antwerp.
A 59th minute goal from Loick Luypaert proved to be the winner after Blake Govers had equalised two minutes earlier in a pulsating contest.
Coming up against Belgium for the first time since the gold medal match of the Tokyo Olympics, the Kookaburras started the FIH Pro League clash with fierce intent but found themselves behind in the 6th minute.
Jeremy Hayward was dispossessed trying to bring the ball out of his own defensive circle and Nelson Onana capitalised, smashing his tomahawk through the legs of goalkeeper Andrew Charter to open the scoring.
The Kookaburras had an opportunity to equalise three minutes later when Tim Brand sent a tantalising ball across the goal face, but an unmarked Davis Atkin could not make contact with it at the far post.
James Collins and Hayward had drag flicks saved by Belgian goalkeeper Vincent Venasch in quick succession, before the Kookaburras were almost undone by a long aerial ball as Sebastien Dockier’s tomahawk cannoned into the post with Charter out of position.
Aside from that chance, the Kookaburras were enjoying a period of dominance and their breakthrough came in the 13th minute from their fifth penalty corner of the quarter. After a Govers drag flick was saved by Venasch, the rebound fell invitingly to Daniel Beale who would not miss.
The homes side were back in front in the 17th minute when Thibeau Stockbroekx scored, the Kookaburras unsuccessfully challenging the decision on review.
Striker Nathan Ephraums was lively in his 50th international as he loomed a constant threat in the attacking D.
Down a goal at half time, Jake Whetton pulled the trigger in the 40th minute only to be denied by Vanasch, but from the resultant penalty corner the midfielder would score as his rising shot sailed through a sea of bodies on it’s way into the back of the net.
The Kookaburras then went ahead in the 44th minute when Atkin intercepted a Belgian defensive pass before turning the ball in towards goal where Ky Willott produced an instinctive finish from close range.
The lead was short lived however, as Arthur de Sloover had time to pick his spot and rocket the ball past Charter from distance in the 47th minute to make it 3-3.
Despite dominating the penalty corner count, the Kookaburras but found themselves trailing again with five minutes to go when Arno Van Dessel struck.
Charter came off with three minutes to go as the Kookaburras chased an equaliser and he would hardly have had time to sit down before Govers made it 4-4 when he knocked the ball home after a sublime assist from Brand.
There was still time for one final twist and it came as Belgium snatched a late winner when Luypaert fired his drag flick low through the legs of Charter who had returned after Govers’ leveller.
The home side then survived two Kookaburras penalty corners in the final seconds to hold on.
“We’re hurting. We created enough opportunities and conceded a couple of easy goals which we’re disappointed about,” said Charter.
“It got a bit frantic at the end. We equalised late and then unfortunately we gave them a corner…we should have controlled the ball better after we scored.”
The teams will meet again at 4.40am AEST on Wednesday morning. The match will be LIVE on FOX Sports and Kayo.
Belgium 5 (Onana 6’, Stockbroekx 17’, de Sloover 47’, Van Dessel 55’, Luypaert 59’)
Kookaburras 4 (Beale 13’, Whetton 40’, Willott 44’, Govers 57’)
@ Sportcentrum Wilrijkse Plein, Antwerp
Kookaburras: 1.Lachlan Sharp, 4.Jake Harvie, 5.Matthew Dawson, 7.Nathan Ephraums, 9.Jacob Anderson, 10.Josh Beltz, 11.Eddie Ockenden, 12.Jake Whetton, 13.Blake Govers, 16.Tim Howard, 20.Ky Willott, 23.Daniel Beale, 26.James Collins, 29.Tim Brand, 30.Andrew Charter (gk) (c), 32.Jeremy Hayward, 48.Davis Atkin
Unused substitute: 49.Ash Thomas (gk)
FIH Pro League 2022-23 Season Eindhoven and Antwerp – Hockeyroos & Kookaburras Match Schedule
8 June – Netherlands 7-2 Hockeyroos (Eindhoven)
9 June – Netherlands 2-7 Kookaburras (Eindhoven)
11 June – Netherlands 3-3 (1-2) Hockeyroos (Eindhoven)
12 June – Netherlands 5-2 Kookaburras (Eindhoven)
16 June – Belgium 0-2 Hockeyroos (Antwerp)
17 June – Belgium 5-4 Kookaburras (Antwerp)
19 June – Belgium v Hockeyroos (Antwerp) 8:40pm local time (4.40am AEST, 20 June)
20 June – Belgium v Kookaburras (Antwerp) 8:40pm local time (4.40am AEST, 21 June)