It all ended in tears for the Hockeyroos at the Beijing Olympics.
A distraught Australian women’s hockey team could not hide their emotions after they were knocked out of the medal round by a feisty China.
The three-time Olympic champions missed out on a semi-final berth despite coming back from two goals down to force a 2-2 draw at the Beijing Olympic Green Hockey Stadium.
But the shattered Hockeyroos knew their efforts had gone unrewarded, with world No.5 China qualifying ahead of Australia for Wednesday night’s semi-finals thanks to a superior goal difference.
It was a must-win match for the rebuilding Australian women – never an easy task against the hosts backed by a rabid home crowd.
Australia had a 31-5 overall record against China before the match, losing their last match against the Olympic hosts way back in 2006.
But the improving Chinese were also always going to be a different proposition.
In a match that China had to draw to join the Netherlands in Wednesday’s semi-finals, all the pressure was on an Australian side with 10 Olympic rookies.
The once mighty Hockeyroos arrived in Beijing with a question mark over their medal claims after the world No.4 had failed to make an impact on the international stage since their disappointing fifth placing in Athens.
But no-one should doubt their ticker again after the inexperienced line-up launched a another gutsy second-half fightback.
Down and out trailing 2-0 early in the second half, Australia clawed their way back with 51st minute goal from a penalty corner to Casey Eastham, the youngest Hockeyroo at just 19.
Then, with just eight minutes left on the clock, Sarah Young knocked one into the back of the box.
Suddenly it was game on.
As the home crowd lost their voice, the Hockeyroos found momentum – but it was not to be.
An obviously proud coach Frank Murray called his girls into a huddle after fulltime, prompting more tears from his obviously shattered team, even from hard eggs like co-captain Nikki Hudson.
When the dust settled, the Hockeyroos had only lost one pool game – 2-1 to world No.1 Holland – but it was still not enough to secure a semi-final berth.
They will contest the playoff for fifth on Friday.
“I have been involved in four Olympic campaigns (as part of the Kookaburras and Hockeyroos coaching staff) and I don’t think I have been prouder of a team than this one,” Murray said.
“We have the makings of a very good team for the future but they have to be able to accept this.”
The Hockeyroos’ performance could not have been summed up better by co-captain Melanie Wells’ effort.
She defied a hamstring strain to knuckle down against the Chinese.
The 30-year-old will retire after the Games and didn’t want to die wondering.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the girls because we fought back from two zip down,” Wells said.