Bhubaneswar: Australia started their title defence with a 2-1 win against underdogs Ireland on Friday here at Kalinga Hockey Stadium.

Perhaps suffocated by first-game anxiety, Australia were subdued at the start. Ireland were venturing into their half more often than they forayed into Ireland’s. Australia also made the match’s first save, as early as the fourth minute.

Matthew Nelson, from inside the penalty circle, tried to swat down a short aerial ball from his teammate into the net. But Australian ‘keeper Andrew Charter made a sharp leap towards the right to save the ball.

Despite being the second-best team in the quarter hitherto, Australia led by a goal – off a penalty corner. Blake Govers rocketed the ball straight onto roof of the Irish net.

But Ireland weren’t bothered much by the goal; they continued to attack. The consistent pressure yielded a goal in the second quarter – their first in a World Cup in 28 years.

Fluttering along the edge of the circle, Sean Murray, in the midst of a superb dribble, tapped the ball to Shane O’Donoghue, who, near the goal-mouth, lifted the ball almost hip-level high and played a shot similar to a defensive front-footed push in cricket to equalise for Ireland.

The goal seemed to have ruffled the Australians. For, after the goal, they passed better, attacked more and got more penalty corners in the second quarter. But penetrating the Irish defence, for the Aussies, was harder than biting open a walnut. The teams, hence, broke for half-time with a goal each.

Australia coach Colin Batch conceded in the intermission that the Irish were controlling the ball well and that his team needed to do well when it possessed the ball.

His team got better as the match progressed. The Aussies moved well in the third quarter. In this phase of the match, they entered the Irish circle six times. The first time they did, they scored.

Tim Brand made a 100m sprint to the right flank from the back, collected Daniel Beale’s long, diagonal pass and, unmarked, he had enough time to reverse-hit the ball into the net after his first attempt was blocked by the Irish captain and ‘keeper David Harte.

Despite Ireland’s last-ditch attempts, they couldn’t score again. They will take on China on Tuesday, when Australia would face England.