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Hockeyroos coach Frank Murray has slammed the sport’s governing body over a little-known rule that could see Australia miss next year’s Champions Trophy, despite being guaranteed at least a silver medal.
The next-generation of Hockeyroos toppled Olympic champions the Netherlands 2-1 on Saturday in a brilliant performance to qualify for the gold-medal match against Argentina on Sunday.
But, if England lose to China in Sunday’s first playoff match between fifth and sixth, Australia staggeringly will have to win the elite six-nations hockey tournament for the first time since 2003 to avoid relegation.
In a worrying sign, England were flogged 4-1 by China on Saturday but Argentina were held to a nil-all draw against Germany.
The bottom-placed team is normally relegated from the tournament, but England are next year’s hosts and are exempt. This means relegation will be decided on Olympic rankings and Australia are fifth.
Coach Murray was surprised, then infuriated, after discovering the Hockeyroos face possible relegation.
“I thought if we finished in the top four we would qualify,” Murray said after the Hockeyroos’ victory.
“I thought the lowest team in the Champions Trophy, bar the host for next year, would be the team that was relegated.”
Murray found it laughable that the International Hockey Federation (FIH) ruling meant Australia should have thrown Thursday’s match against England, which they won 4-nil, in order to guarantee qualification.
“I think that it is a ridiculous rule, and a ridiculous qualification process that we would have been better off losing the other day (to England) and playing China for five and sixth (position) in order to get into next year’s Champions Trophy,” he said.
Australia fought admirably and belied expectation by keeping the Beijing gold medallists and tournament favourites out of the decider.
The Netherlands will now face Germany in a battle for third place on Sunday.
A goal to Hockeyroos star Casey Eastham (2nd), her third of the tournament, and a penalty stroke from Nicole Arrold (43rd) lifted Murray’s side to victory.
Arrold gave Australia the match-winning a 2-1 lead when she scored from a penalty stroke awarded to the Hockeyroos after Megan Rivers was fouled by Dutch captain Janneke Schopman just as she was about to shoot.
Schopman protested strongly against the decision and claimed afterwards to have made contact only with the ball.
“In my view I only touched the ball and not the player, so we were a little bit unlucky,” Schopman said.
“Australia were really physical and we are technical players who need space.”
But the win, a bright sign for the future of Australian hockey, has been overshadowed by the FIH ruling, which was brought to the attention of the tournament hosts just before Saturday’s game.
Australia have taken part in every Champions Trophy tournament since its inception in 1987.