The top-ranked and world champion Kookaburras, the best field hockey team since the Beijing Games, were expected to muscle their way to another gold medal in London. But Germany beat them in the semifinals, only their third loss in a major tournament in three years.
That lingering pain was evident on Saturday when time was up on their 3-1 win over Britain in the match for bronze. The Australians merely walked back toward their dugout without much apparent joy.
Then, slowly, they hugged and backslapped each other and the reaction of their fans helped them appreciate that their sixth straight Olympic medal was an accomplishment worth celebrating. Their moods lifted the longer they walked a lap of honour around the blue pitch with the pink fringe and they stopped twice for group photos.
"We came here for gold but if you can't get that, there is only one other thing left to get and we did," said midfielder Mark Knowles, one of three survivors from the 2004 Athens gold-medal team with Jamie Dwyer and Liam de Young.
Our assistant coach (Graham Reid) has been to an Olympics and came fourth and that is a horrible feeling. I am really proud of the medals I have won, you win whatever you can, and not many people in the world can say they have three Olympic medals."
Britain also eventually perked up. Chasing its first medal since it won the 1988 Seoul Games, its fourth placing was its best Olympic finish since. It hadn't beaten Australia also since Seoul, and the weight of a minority share of turf and ball was too great to overcome.
Goals were scored by Simon Orchard, Jamie Dwyer and Kieran Govers, and Britain equalized against the run of play thanks to Iain Lewers' second career goal in a solid rebound from the record 9-2 defeat to the Netherlands in the semifinals.
"They had a brilliant day, we had an off-day, these things collide," Britain forward Robert Moore said. "But obviously 9-2 in front of the home crowd in the home Olympics takes a little bit of swallowing, so we did well to pick ourselves up again."
The only surprise about the first goal was that Australia began the move from its own half. Joel Carroll's long pass up the left wing found Dwyer, who spun out of three defenders to centre to an unmarked Orchard, who scored from the top of the circle in the 17th.
Britain levelled out of the blue when 19-year-old Harry Martin's rush up the middle forced the team's only penalty corner of the match, and Ashley Jackson hit the ball to the left post for Lewers to deflect in.
In the second half, with Britain under pressure, Matt Gohdes' penalty corner deflected to Dwyer, who volleyed in his own rebound for 2-1 after 48 minutes. James Fair, Britain's goalkeeper and constant saviour, made a glove save on Dwyer that diverted straight to Govers, who volleyed in the third goal.
"Today we played really well and it is good to take something away from this Olympics," Dwyer said.
His coach, Ric Charlesworth, predicted he and the team were bound to come in for criticism at home for not delivering gold, but added that compared to the Australia women's teams he coached to two golds in 1996 and 2000, the men he took over in 2009 were receiving much less financial support.
Charlesworth, a silver medallist as a player in 1976, said Australia needed to look only at the financial backing all of Britain's Olympic teams received to understand the difference. He praised Britain's Olympic-wide results and said Australia could learn a lesson.
Earlier, Belgium beat Spain 5-2 to finish fifth, six places higher than its world ranking, and South Africa topped India 3-2 for 11th, leaving the eight-time champion last for the first time in an Olympics.Suggest a correction