On a landmark day for their sharpshooter Blake Govers, the Kookaburras have opened up their Olympic hockey year in dramatic fashion, seeing a three-goal lead slip away before eking out a 4-3 victory over Spain in the FIH Pro League.
Making his 150th appearance in Australia's colours at the Indian venue of Bhubaneswar on Sunday, the deadly 27-year-old marksman Govers, almost inevitably, graced the occasion by getting on the scoresheet in the side's first match of 2024.
His second-quarter goal at Kalinga Stadium - a familiar drag-flicked penalty corner - was his 136th goal for his country, maintaining his astonishing strike rate of not far off a goal a game.
Lachi Sharp's 52nd minute goal proves to be the winner in Blake's 150th and gets us off to a perfect start in Season 5 of FIH Pro League.
Next up is Ireland on Tuesday from 11pm AEDT, live and free on @7plus. pic.twitter.com/fLiZGyExP2
— Kookaburras (@Kookaburras) February 11, 2024
It put the Kookaburras, playing their first match for five months, into cruise control at that point, 3-0 up after earlier goals from Lachie Sharp, from a terrific reverse stick strike, and player of the match Jake Whetton.
But ever the perfectionist, Govers wasn't too happy about the rest of his evening.
"The goal-to-game ratio keeps ticking along, but I feel like I should've had two or three more in there," he suggested afterwards.''
After his goal, things started going awry for the Olympic silver medallists, with Spain pulling one back through Marc Miralles just before half-time.
In a niggly, card-strewn game, the Aussies seemed a bit sluggish after the break.
They conceded twice in the space of two minutes as debutant Nicolas Alvarez and Pol Cabre Verdiell struck to level.
Remarkably, just as in the 2023 World Cup quarter-final when the Kookaburras had to work hard for a 4-3 win over Spain, the same result eventuated once Sharp scored with a well-struck shot with just eight minutes remaining.
Even then the drama wasn't over, as the Spaniards earned a penalty corner in the last minute and then soon after had the ball in the net, only for it to be ruled out after an earlier pass had been ruled dangerous.
"Apart from the third quarter, where they scored two quick goals, I think we played a pretty dominant game," Govers said.
The outstanding Whetton added: "It's good just to be playing international hockey again. We've had a little bit of a lay-off, so it's nice to be back playing, and this was a good way to start our campaign."
The Kookaburras, who have moved straight away into fifth in the nine-team table after just their first game, next face Pro League newcomers Ireland on Tuesday.