Two goals in the final five minutes have given the Hockeyroos a 2-0 victory over Japan in their opening match of the FIH Women’s World Cup in Spain.
Mariah Williams struck in the 56th minute with her 19th goal in her 98th international appearance to reward the Hockeyroos’ persistence against a stout Japan defence.
Rosie Malone then sealed the result in the final minute of Saturday’s match to send the Hockeyroos to the top of their pool ahead of Belgium taking on South Africa in the other Pool D match on Sunday.
With 11 players making World Cup debuts, including 19-year-old Queensland duo Claire Colwill and Hannah Cullum-Sanders, the Hockeyroos absorbed early pressure and a host of Japanese penalty corners as goalkeeper Jocelyn Bartram was called into action.
Towards the end of the first quarter the Hockeyroos enjoyed their own string of penalty corners but could not break the deadlock.
The arm wrestle continued in the second period before the Hockeyroos again started to dominate possession and chances.
The Hockeyroos flew out of the box in the second half, Williams finding Cullum-Sanders in the attacking circle but her superb diving effort flew narrowly wide.
Amy Lawton did her best to manufacture the opening goal as she drove into the circle and sent a ball across the goal face but again Japan managed to hold on.
Japanese captain Yuri Nagai had her side’s best chance of the third quarter, sending a shot just wide.
As the minutes ticked away and the Hockeyroos’ desperation grew, the reward eventually came four minutes from full time.
Grace Stewart slid the ball into a dangerous area creating indecision on the Japanese goal line which allowed Williams to knock the ball above goalkeeper Eika Nakamura into the net.
Malone put the result beyond doubt in the final 60 seconds after Japan withdrew their goalkeeper to give them an extra outfield player as they chased an equaliser.
This time Williams would provide the assist as the Hockeyroos forced a midfield turnover, the striker dinking the ball into the path of Malone and she did the rest.
“It was a really good fight from the girls. We dug deep, worked really hard and we knew if we stuck to our processes we could get the win,” said Williams, who was awarded the Player of the Match.
The Hockeyroos’ next match is against Belgium on Tuesday.