Just for a moment, it looked like Australia will be served with a shock upset in the World Cup quarterfinals by an enterprising Spanish team.
Spain went up 2-0 in the first half, but in a matter of seven minutes, Australia clicked into gear and turned it around to win 4-3 here at the Kalinga Stadium on Tuesday to book a place in the semifinals.
The Kookaburras were blunted in the first half by Spain’s well-drilled defensive shape.
The Spanish players were swift to cut down passes and closed down dribbling lanes inside their zone. The Australians were misfiring from the penalty corners, where they have been reliably good this World Cup.
While the Red Sticks saw less of the ball, they were composed when they regained possession and repeatedly targeted Australia’s left, where the two goals came from, to create overloads.
The opening goal started from the right with a surging run from Ignacio Rodriguez which pulled Australian players into the left channel, opening space in the middle. Enrique Gonzalez squared the ball to Xavier Gispert, who turned away from his marker in the circle before emphatically firing a tomahawk into the bottom corner.
Four minutes later, Pepe Cunill played a square ball into the circle, which Lachlan Sharp failed to trap allowing Marc Recasens to flick it past Andrew Charter for the second. Things could have gone further south for the Aussies had Borja Lacalle made his run on time to pass the ball into an empty net.
At the other end, Australia immediately got a lifeline on the stroke of half-time with a goal of its own. Matt Dawson fired in a pass into the circle, where an unmarked Flynn Ogilvie set himself up before striking with pace past Adrian Rafi.
When the hooter for half-time went off, the Australians were rushing off the turf and were the first to be out for the second half.
The shift in gear was apparent in the second half as they overturned the lead within three minutes. From the left, Jake Whetton made a superb run into the circle and along the baseline before setting up Aran Zalewski to finish on the slide.
The penalty corners were threatening again as Jeremy Hayward’s drag-flick deflected off first-rusher Alvaro Iglesias and went in to sound the board. Hayward had switched to the right battery in the second half and he flicked another effort powerfully for Australia’s fourth.
A long video referral and a disallowed Australian goal check gave Spain some time to regroup. Spain’s response came through a penalty corner – the first one coming only in the 38th minute -- and on the fourth attempt, Marc Miralles fired his drag-flick through the legs of Charter.
Despite having conceded three on the night, Charter would have the final say in preserving the lead as he first made two crucial saves off Miralles and Iglesias. Australia ceded possession to Spain and that invited an error from Zalewski, whose stick check gave Spain a penalty stroke with four minutes left.
But Charter bailed his skipper out by palming out Miralles’ penalty – his second miss from the spot in the World Cup. When the hooter went off in the end, Australia breathed a sigh of relief in overcoming a spirited Spanish side and having returned to the last four yet again.