Australia's golden return

AUSTRALIA survived a heart stopping late surge by defending champions China to win the 2003 women's Champions Trophy final at Sydney's Olympic Park.

BILL COLWILL

AUSTRALIA survived a heart stopping late surge by defending champions China to win the 2003 women's Champions Trophy final at Sydney's Olympic Park. This was their first major success since taking the gold medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics at the same venue. The victory re-establishes their position as one of the leading women's nations and in the words of coach David Bell: "Puts us on track for Athens."

The coach made it clear that the Hockeyroos went on a three-year rebuilding and consolidating plan after their Olympic success adding, after the final, "Tomorrow, we look forward to Athens."

Having scraped into the final against China, after losing to them 1-0 in their pool game and with the other results in the last round of pool games going Australia's way, their victory was based on a forceful 16-minute opening burst of speedy, high powered hockey which swept the opposition aside in a seemingly effortless blitz of three goals. A 24 second opening goal from Julie Towers as she trapped in her captain Katrina Powell's cross from the left, opened the way with follow up goals from Suzie Faulkner in the 14th minute and then a couple of minutes later a third from Peta Gallagher. After the interval the restructured Chinese responded with a longer passing game and speeded up their attacks with their fight back headed with goals from Baorong Fu in the 43rd minute and Shuang Li in the 64th to provide a grand slam finish which the Australians managed to survive.

A clinical Netherlands took full advantage of reserve goalkeeper Paola Vukojicic to steel a 3-2 victory to take the bronze medal after having denied Argentina a place in the final the previous day as the Dutch hung on desperately to a 3-3 draw. For Argentina's Sergio Vigil's side it was an extremely disappointing finish for the World Champions who took the title in Perth a year ago in their final major event before Athens.

Argentina did leave Sydney with one trophy, their star midfielder Luciana Aymar, voted Player of the Tournament.

England maintained their fifth ranking by beating Korea 4-2 in a penalty shootout after a 2-2 draw after extra-time in a match which will leave two notable memories with those who witnessed it. First, on the pleasing side, the two great penalty stroke saves by England's goalkeeper Hilary Rose in the shootout, and secondly, less pleasingly, the seven yellow cards in a game in which there was just no malice at all between the sides.

A crackdown by umpires on tackles that broke down attacks. Why the concern, which to many had been evident from the opening games, had not been reinforced earlier was difficult to understand. England coach Tricia Heberle expressed her concern that if there was to be a crack down the coaches had not been notified.

Although England were caught napping by Australia to lose 5-0 in their opening game and Australia accounted for Korea by the same score in their final Pool game, this tournament was one of the closest Champions events I can recall. Often only a goal separating the sides and with the two notable exceptions above, never more than by two. By a twist of results the cut-throat drama was maintained to the final round of Pool games.

China eventually secured the one point they needed to top the table with a 2-2 draw against a rejuvenated England but cracks were beginning to appear in their game. There were signs of indiscipline — for example in conceding nine penalty corners, of which, fortunately for the Chinese, England were only able to convert one. Their Korean-born coach Kim Chang received a reprimand from the English Tournament Director Julia Gill for showing his frustration on the bench.

Argentina then took the pitch requiring a win against the Dutch to secure their place in the final against China — a repeat of last year's final in Macau which the host nation won after a penalty shoot out 3-1, following a 2-2 draw at the end of extra-time.

In a tightly contested game with never more than a goal difference between the teams, the match eventually ended in a 3-3 draw leaving the simple equation that Australia needed a win to appear in the final. Australia achieved their target with that 5-0 thrashing of Korea with five different goal scorers.