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Third place is a step too far for Great Britain as Australia take Olympic Games bronze
The match was tied 1-1 at half time with goals from Simon Orchard and Iain Lewers, but second half strikes from Jamie Dwyer and Kieran Govers captured the bronze medal for an Australia side who came to London with a realistic chance of gold.
Both sides had semi-final hangovers to shake-off with GB reeling from a 9-2 spanking by Holland and Australia a tough 4-2 loss to Germany. Nevertheless the sides produced a decent quality hockey game with only a few more basic errors than might be expected if they were both on top form.
2011 world player of the year Dwyer was an ever-present danger and he created the opening goal after 17 minutes with a lead in front of Lewers on the left side of attack. Dwyer then drove infield drawing in a second defender and found Simon Orchard open at the top of the circle. Orchard made no mistake with a high shot that James Fair managed to get a decent amount of glove on to, but the ball still found its way just inside the right post.
Alastair Wilson, Ben Hawes, Richard Smith and Ashley Jackson all did some calm defensive work. And it was Jackson who almost produced an equaliser, winning the ball in defence then quickly sending 60m aerial from a sideline hit to skipper Barry Middleton. Middleton charged circleward and it was only a fine interception from a diving Tim Deavin that stopped the ball finding an unmarked Jonty Clarke in front of goal.
The equaliser finally came after 29 minutes when Harry Martin forced his way into the circle and a defensive tackle pushed the ball onto Fergus Kavanagh's body. Jackson, GB's main corner threat with five corner goals and one from open play in the 2012 Games, slipped the ball back to injector Lewers who swept it home.
Australia built pressure early in the second half and GB's cause wasn't helped when Wilson was harshly yellow-carded for playing the ball high. Australia won a rather soft PC for a foot in the circle by Smith. And the corner was eventually bundled in by Dwyer (48mins) after a rebound from Fair.
GB continued to attack with Harry Martin and Rob Moore to the fore, but strong defensive work, notably from Matthew Swann, and occasional mis-traps didn't help the cause. Australia's grasp on a medal was made more secure in th e57th minute when Kieran Govers picked up a rebound from a Dwyer shot on the turn to make it 3-1.
Goalkeeper Fair was substituted for the final five minutes while the Riverbank Arena roared GB on, but the bronze medal was out of reach.
Smith said: "It's a game of small margins. I felt we were closer to how we want to perform today. We gave it everything but the result didn't go our way. Perhaps if we had been a bit more clinical at both ends of the pitch, it could have done." Smith also revealed he will play in Belgium this season, at Royal Racing Club de Bruxelles.
Australia coach Ric Charlesworth was understanding in victory. "I feel terribly for GB. I have been in Barry's [Middleton] position twice. It is the worst position to be in at the Olympics - finishing fourth.
"We were suffering from what happened two ago. From our point of view we are pleased. We had prepared in difficullt circumstances. Our expectations were just higher - we wanted to play in the main game today," he said.