The Kookaburras have gone down 3-1 to a classy Belgium to close off their FIH Pro League 2022-23 Season on a wet night in Antwerp.
After pushback was delayed 20 minutes due to thunder and lightning in the area, the home side and Olympic champions took a slender one goal lead into half time.
Loick Luypaert’s second put Belgium 2-0 up in the 41st minute before Blake Govers’ 132nd goal sparked life into a Kookaburras fightback.
However, when Nicolas de Kerpel was fastest to react to knock home the rebound from a Belgium penalty corner in the 56th minute, it sealed the 3-1 result.
On a positive note, Kookaburras Head Coach Colin Batch used the Pro League to give a host of his younger and less experienced players valuable match time.
The Kookaburras will now head to Paris for two international matches against France on 23 and 25 June before returning home to prepare for the Oceania Cup, which doubles as Olympic qualifiers, against New Zealand in August.
Once the game commenced following the delay, Belgium could have taken an early lead when William Ghislain failed to hit the target with just Ash Thomas to beat in the Kookaburras goal.
The Kookaburras found themselves behind in the 12th minute when Luypaert fired his drag flick past the inexperienced Thomas who was playing in just his third international.
Skill from Nathan Ephraums and Govers won the Kookaburras’ first penalty corner early in the second quarter but the latter’s ensuing drag flick was saved by Belgian goalkeeper Loic van Doren.
After defensive lapses proved costly in their 5-4 loss to Belgium three days earlier, the Kookaburras were more assured in possession, particularly coming out of their defensive half.
Thomas somehow managed to keep out Sebastien Dockier’s venomous strike just before half time to ensure the Kookaburras remained firmly in the contest despite the home side enjoying the lion’s share of possession.
Andrew Charter replaced Thomas for the second half but it was Belgium’s shot stopper van Doren who was called into action as he produced a stick save high to his right to deny a Govers drag flick.
The Kookaburras continued to probe and the Belgian resistance was finally overcome when Govers beat van Doren with a laser drag flick to halve the deficit.
However, four minutes later Belgium struck again through de Kerpel after Charter saved Luypaert’s initial drag flick.
Chasing the game, the Kookaburras played with an extra outfield player when Charter was removed for the final three minutes but Belgium’s defence remained resolute.
“It’s disappointing. Belgium is a class outfit and they showed that tonight,” said Jeremy Hayward, who captained the team.
“Belgium had the ball for far too long and we need to be better. It was tough conditions but they just adjusted better to them.
“We don’t like losing. We’ve got a young group and are experimenting but that’s no excuse. We want to win every game so we’ll regroup, learn from this and improve.”
Belgium 3 (Luypaert 12’/41’, de Kerpel 56’)
Kookaburras 1 (Govers 52’)
@ 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, 14.Dylan Martin, 16.Tim Howard, 20.Ky Willott, 26.James Collins, 29.Tim Brand, 30.Andrew Charter (gk), 32.Jeremy Hayward (c), 48.Davis Atkin, 49.Ash Thomas (gk)