THE Big Dog was barking and the Kookaburras got their smile back after Australia stormed into the Olympic hockey semi-finals today.
Ric Charlesworth’s world champion Kookaburras left the doubts created by two chastening draws behind them to give Pakistan a 7-0 spanking that allowed Australia to finish top of their pool at the Riverbank Arena.
Pakistan’s coach Akhtar Chaudry called it the worst performance by a Pakistan side in 43 years, but that was to underestimate the quality of the green-and-gold tank brigade that tore their game apart.
Australia’s house is suddenly in order and perhaps even all the better for a couple of burst pipes which now appear to have been fixed.
The Kookaburras will now play world No.2 and Olympic champion Germany tomorrow, with the fitness of key striker Glen Turner the main selection worry.
“Today’s match won’t mean a thing when we play Germany,” said coach Ric Charlesworth.
“They are a bigger, pshycially stronger team and they play a different game (to Pakistan). We are highly respectful of Germany. They have a lot of skill and have match winning players.”
Australia – as has been the case all tournament – were quickly into stride with two goals in the first six minutes, but the second half fade out of recent games against Argentina and Great Britain was nowhere to be seen.
Perhaps the most significant event of the day was Chris “The Big Dog” Ciriello living up to his nickname by muscling in two strong goals.
Melbourne-raised Ciriello, 26, whose grandfather played hockey for India, had been under substantial pressure in the tournament given he was given the key role of drag-flicker ahead of Luke Doerner, a refiner of the art, who did not make the team.
Australia’s Christopher Ciriello (on the ground) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal during the field hockey preliminary round match between Australia and Pakistan at the Riverbank Arena in London. Picture: AFP Source: The Daily Telegraph
Before today, Ciriello had scored just one goal but his fortunes changed to give Australia just the pep pill they need before taking on ruthless, mechanical, efficient Germany.
Ciriello puts so much efforts into his drag flicks he sometimes ends up sprawled on the turf and this was the case just before halftime as the ball rocketed in goal past keeper Imran Shah for Ciriello’s second goal of the tournament.
He dropped his head in relief.
With his confidence riding high, Ciriello found the net again with a “Tomahawk” five minutes later, turning his stick around and potting a back-hander that gave Australia a 4-0 lead. This time he smiled broadly.
Relief had been replaced by joy and he suddenly a man at peace with his tournament.
Seasoned campaigner Mark Knowles said the challenge of Germany was one Australia would relish.
“They are very strong and structured,” he said. “We have played them in the last three World Cup finals. You always know what you are going to get from Germany. A hard, tough game.”
Australia has several players in imposing form, including Russell Ford, who brilliantly smacked his fourth goal of the tournament in the second half when he swatted a ball on the bounce running swiftly on an angle so sweetly that keeper Imran Shah barely moved as the ball whizzed by his left shoulder.
Liam de Young was in everything early he he pounced on a crumb after a penalty corner and backhanded the first gooal, his 33rd in 282 matches for his country.