By Tom Harle at Oi Hockey Stadium, Tokyo
Belgium beat Australia in a pulsating penalty shootout to claim Olympic hockey gold, their first title in a team sport for 91 years.
Jake Whetton needed to score to save the Kookaburras in the shootout and missed - twice - after a video referral deemed him to have been fouled on the first by Belgian keeper Vincent Vanasch.
The Red Lions were deserving winners, winning the shootout 3-2 after a compelling game ended 1-1 in normal time.
In 2018, the then-president of Belgian Hockey promised that they would win all major titles in the sport by 2024. They’ve done it three years early, and in style.
It was a sweet way to upgrade their Rio silver and Shane McLeod’s side became the fourth team in history be able to call themselves Olympic and World Cup champions.
Penalties were an unjust way to separate clearly the two best sides in the world game, coming after a first half that Belgium dominated and a second that Australia played on their terms.
It was only the second men’s Olympic final to be decided by shuffles, and the first since Sydney 2000.
Australia looked nervous early on with the ever-reliable midfielder Aran Zalewski and Josh Simmonds making early handling errors and surrendering possession.
The best chance of a cagey first quarter fell to Antoine Kina, who cracked a backhanded effort straight at Andrew Charter in the Australian goal.
Belgium did everything but score in the second, with Cedric Charlier forcing Charter into a save with a slap shot from the top of the circle.
There was a sharp intake of breath when the first short corner was conceded by Australia on 25 minutes. Alexander ‘Jimi’ Hendrickx is the best drag-flicker the game has ever seen and carried an incredible record of 14 goals from 34 attempts into the final.
Australian runners smothered his first and a subsequent second whistled past the right-hand post.
McLeod’s men got the goal they deserved early in the third when Nico de Kerpel steered the ball into the path of Florent van Aubel, who bundled through Charter’s grasp from four yards.
That sparked the Kookaburras into life in the final third and on 38 minutes, Flynn Ogilvie’s close range poke flicked off the inside of Vanasch’s right kicker and clanged against the right-hand post.
From the resulting short, Jeremy Hayward forced Vanasch into a low flying save to his right.
Colin Batch’s side drew level with a goal that again came in the early moments of a quarter. The ball broke loose in the circle and Zalewski hacked towards goal, looping up off Arthur van Doren’s stick for Tom Wickham to tap home at the far post.
Penalties loomed with Ogilvie cracking a shot on target but otherwise both goalkeepers were able to gird their loins for the drama that followed.
Blake Govers tried to round Vanasch with the first but saw the ball swept from his stick and Belgium opened up a 2-1 shootout lead.
Captain Felix Denayer and Joshua Simmonds both missed, and Victor Wegnez was cleaned out by Charter with Hendrickx stepping up to slot the resulting penalty stroke.
Whetton saw his first stroke skim off the right-hand post, cueing mad Belgian celebrations, only for an Australian referral to spot Vanasch touching his foot with his stick.
It didn’t matter, as Vanasch saved the retake to clinch Olympic gold.
The Kookaburras face the torture of having been the most consistent side in the world for 15 years, yet without an Olympic gold to show for it.
After they qualified for Tokyo, Batch’s team met with Jamie Dwyer’s 2004 gold medal winning side and sung The Mighty Kookaburra song composed by John Williamson.
Experiences like that will light a fire in the likes of 25-year-old Whetton, who was devastated after his miss and had to be hauled out of the dressing room to join the team huddle.
The sadness sits with 379-cap Kookaburra legend Eddie Ockenden, who owns three Olympic medals and none in the colour he truly wants.