With under 20 seconds to play in the first half, his team down by 2 goals, Australia isolated their middie, Mitchell Kennedy, by the midline covered by a pole. The Aussie timed his attack perfectly, used a deft head fake to get it all going, and fully started his dodge seconds later. After racing by his man, Kennedy slotted one toward the soil, beating Israel goalie Eric Schneider much to the delight of the rambunctious Aussie faithful.
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The goal brought Australia to within one going into halftime, 4-3, and proved to be the ultimate driver of the team’s second-half play.
“That goal is a momentum play times one thousand,” said Australian defender Callum Robinson. “Mitchell Kennedy took it upon himself one-of-one to take it to the cage on a pole with 13 seconds left. If you want a player to lift up the other 22 boys on the team, that was it.”
In those final 40 minutes, Australia did gain and hold control, fully recovering from a 4-1 deficit midway through the second quarter to take a 9-6 victory in the quarterfinal matchup against the Israelis on Wednesday at ESPN Field in front of the home crowd faithful.
The game wasn’t much different from the game the two teams played in Denver four years ago, which was also a quarterfinal matchup. In that game, Australia was down 5-1 before coming back to win 9-8. Australia head coach Glenn Meredith said the previous success in a very similar situation helped boost his team to claw itself back into this game. He kept the belief that if his team remained relentless, it would be all right.
“We thought (Israel) hadn’t played anybody over four full quarters, and they’d been resting guys in the lower division,” Meredith said. “We knew our fitness, knew our structures, and that if we kept doing what we were doing, we’d be okay and be able to run the game our way at a high level.”
It should go without saying it has been hot in Israel this summer. The heat has been a factor every team has had to deal with these World Championships, sometimes slowing teams down as games wear on. On Wednesday, the host nation was the team that took its foot off the gas pedal the later the game went, while Australia drove on full speed ahead.
“We don’t mind the heat,” Meredith said. “We just made a pact with ourselves that we’d relish the heat, relish the opportunity and wouldn’t let it get to us or get us down. I think the guys who were in during the final minute of the game for us were running as fast as in the first minute. That shows that that fitness component we’ve put in has really paid off.” The Australians have always been dedicated to fitness, but this team really pushed that limit to new heights.
Israel head coach Bill Beroza said he noticed a difference in his team from the first to second halves.
“Second half, we came out with a little bit of tired legs or something, just lackadaisical,” Beroza said. “We weren’t scoring. (Australia) slowed the game down, controlled the ball for longer and took time off the clock. We played a lot of defense, and by playing defense you get tired. If you get tired, then you give up goals.”
Robinson said his team knew what was coming after seeing what Israel threw at it in the first half, which helped Australia hold Israel to only two second-half goals.
“We knew after playing 40 minutes where their attack was coming from, what they were trying to get,” Robinson explained. “We settled down our slides a little bit, tidied up our package. We switched our man-down play, and it all worked for the better.”
Meredith attributed the defensive display to pre-game preparation.
“We watched a lot of footage,” he said. “We put a lot of work into (Max) Seibald, because he’s the distributor and the driver at the high post. We didn’t do that very well in the first quarter, but after quarter time, I thought we shut them down pretty well and shut him down pretty well.”
With the loss, Israel is now set for a date Friday at 6:45 p.m. on Epoch Field with Japan in the fifth-place bracket to determine who will be the new entrant into the 2022 Blue Division. Although the team is out of medal contention, Beroza made it clear his team is focused on achieving a spot in the top six.
For Australia, the win keeps it in the hunt to return to the podium after a disappointing 2014 campaign left the country without a World Championships medal for the first time since 1974. The Aussies will face the United States on Friday at 9 p.m. on ESPN Field, a rematch of the 19-1 beating USA delivered to Australia last Saturday, for a spot in the gold medal game.