Sport Penalty shootout agony consigns Kookaburras to men’s hockey silver
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Penalty shootout agony consigns Kookaburras to men’s hockey silver

Australia’s Blake Govers fails to convert his side's first penalty past Belgium’s Vincent Vanasch. Photo: Getty
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Belgium has claimed the men’s hockey gold medal against Australia after a dramatic penalty shootout decided the enthralling contest.

The Kookaburras’ quest for their first Olympic gold medal since 2004 ended with a 3-2 penalty shootout loss on Thursday night.

Belgium took an early lead through Florent van Aubel and dominated much of the first half.

Tom Wickham, a late addition to Australia’s squad in July, delivered a 47th-minute equaliser to give the world No.1 side hope.

Spurred on by the equaliser, the Kookaburras continued to push for a winner in an exciting end-to-end contest.

But the rivals remain locked at 1-1 at the end of regulation time, sending the game to a penalty shootout.

Belgium won the ensuing shootout 3-2, with its triumph sealed in dramatic fashion after a video review granted Jake Whetton a second shot, but the Kookaburras star was unable to score and force the Belgians to take their fifth attempt.

Goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch was the hero, with he and his teammates celebrating prematurely after Whetton, taking Australia’s fifth shot, failed to find the back of the net.

The video umpire found Vanasch illegally erred, giving Whetton a chance to create a moment as iconic as Jamie Dwyer’s extra-time goal that sealed the Kookaburras’ gold at Athens 2004.

However, Vanasch bettered the inconsolable Whetton again to consign the Kookaburras to silver.

The dramatic scenes came straight after Andrew Charter, described by co-captain Aran Zalewski as being Australia’s “rock” after his keeping heroics in a quarter-final shootout, was judged to have intentionally fouled Victor Wegnez.

Alexander Hendrickx, playing with six stitches in his head after last week’s thunderous blow prompted a lot of blood loss and fears of a skull fracture, took the resultant penalty stroke and delivered Belgium’s go-ahead goal in the shootout.

Belgium had never won men’s hockey gold, while Australia’s solitary success came in Athens 17 years ago.

The result was a significant improvement on the Kookaburras’ quarter-final loss at Rio 2016, but they may struggle to find such perspective after an epic contest full of near-misses, amazing saves and momentum shifts.

Charter produced four saves in regular time before van Aubel broke the deadlock in the 32nd minute, seizing on Nicolas de Kerpel’s scything pass in the goalmouth.

The Kookaburras, having tested the woodwork and Vanasch while searching for an equaliser late in the third quarter, locked the game up early in the final term.

Zalewski’s lofted shot was hammered into the back of the net by Wickham.

Both sides had their moments while searching for a second goal – a stretch that included a green card for Daniel Beale, a nasty blow to Sebastien Dockier’s head and a video referral with 4.3 seconds remaining.

Australia and Belgium were the two stand-out teams in an enthralling tournament in Tokyo.

Before the final, the Kookaburras had scored 27 goals in seven games, with Blake Govers leading the way on seven.

Belgium smashed nine past South Africa and Canada and had scored 34 goals en route to the final.

Having lost back-to-back semi-finals in 2008 and 2012, Tuesday’s 3-1 victory over Germany helped ensure Australia will go home with a silver medal.

The loss came a matter of minutes after the Matildas achieved their best result at a major championship, finishing fourth after a gallant 4-3 loss in the bronze medal match against the US.

-with AAP