The Kookaburras have flirted with calamity in their Tokyo Olympics opener, recording a 5-3 win over Japan that belied the tag of gold-medal favourites.
World No.1 Australia’s match against the hosts, ranked 15th in the world, was widely expected to be a lopsided affair.
It looked like that would transpire after housemates Tim Brand and Tom Craig found the back of the net in the first quarter, opening up a 2-0 lead for the Kookaburras.
But Japan, having triumphed in one of 26 previous contests against Australia, seized control with three goals in the space of just six minutes during the second term.
Australia coach Colin Batch’s halftime address had its desired effect; Blake Govers’ drag flick tied the game up before co-captain Aran Zalewski’s tomahawk delivered an impressive go-ahead goal.
The Kookaburras, leading 4-3 at three-quarter time, increased their buffer early in the final term when Daniel Beale’s nerve-settling tap in came after a superb Brand pass.
The topsy-turvy nature of Saturday’s game was perhaps an early indicator of how COVID-19, and the resultant halt to so much international sport over the past 16 months, will muddy the form guide at this unique Olympics.
Australia, on a quest for redemption after crashing out at the quarter-final stage of Rio de Janeiro to miss out on an Olympic medal for the first time since 1988, successfully regained their powerhouse status after 2016.
The Kookaburras won the Commonwealth Games and Champions Trophy in 2018 then the 2019 Pro League.
But the coronavirus pandemic means Batch’s side have only played some recent trans-Tasman tune-ups since the Pro League was halted in March, 2020.
A calm and typically dominant Zalewski, one of seven players in Australia’s squad with Olympic experience, was among his side’s best.
The Kookaburras’ campaign continues against India on Sunday night, when another second-quarter stumble could prove more costly.