With no gold medals since the 2004 Olympics despite consistent world dominance, the Kookaburras will be feeling the pressure to perform in 2021.
And while the 5-3 win over Japan wasn’t a dominant display, Australia will be happy to have started their Tokyo campaign with a win, calming the nerves of the 11 squad members making their Olympics debut.
It looked to be business as usual for the world no. 1 Kookaburras early, with goals to Tim Brand and Tom Craig seeing them skip to a 2-0 quarter-time lead.
But Japan had other ideas, refusing to be phased by the might of the Kookaburras despite its lowly world no. 15 ranking.
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Kenta Tanaka sparked the unlikely Japanese resurgence with his sliding effort from a tight angle finding the back of the net.
Continuing to punish Australia on the counterattack, Yoshiki Kirishita equalised, positioning himself perfectly to deflect the ball between the helpless legs of Australian goalkeeper Andrew Charter.
Tanaka made it two goals in two minutes and three goals in five minutes for the Japanese, capitalising on a defensive error for his double.
The host nation suddenly lead 3-2, wielding the might of momentum, and had crowds been allowed in Oi Hockey Stadium the noise would’ve been deafening.
Half-time couldn’t come quick enough for Australia, and when it did, they had their tails between their legs.
But a team of the Kookaburra’s quality wasn’t going to be walked over.
Rejuvenated and refocused, they retaliated through Blake Govers, who just minutes into the third quarter fired a rocket past Japanese goalie Takashi Yoshikawa.
The goal came from a penalty corner, and was the only Australian goal to come in that fashion despite having nine penalty corners – it’s an area of the game they’ll be looking to improve.
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With the game on the line, Australian skipper Aran Zalewski rose, producing a spectacular reverse-stick goal to hand his side a 4-3 advantage.
Daniel Beale put the finishing touches on the 5-3 result in the final term, ensuring the Kookaburras escaped with a win.
Having taken it to the heavyweights, Japan’s prospects are looking bright in men’s field hockey, and they’ve proven their counterattacking style can be damaging.
Australia on the other hand will be looking for a more complete performance when they take on India at 7:30pm AEST on Sunday.