Bhubaneswar: Australia's quest for a record hat-trick of titles started with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Ireland in the opening Pool B match of the men's hockey World Cup here on Friday.
In the other match, eighteen brave men from Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region produced a gritty performance to help debutants China register a fighting 2-2 draw against higher-ranked England in Pool B.
Having won the back-to-back World Cups in 2010 and 2014, world no.1 Australia came into the ongoing tournament as a firm favourite but they were far from impressive and were made to toil hard by Ireland in their opener.
World no. 10 Ireland gave Australia a run for their money with impressive display in both attack and defence. The Kookaburras were dismal with penalty corners, converting just one out of five.
Blake Govers (11th minute) and Tim Brand scored for the winners, while Ireland's lone goal came from the sticks of Shane O'Donoghue.
Ten places might separate the two teams, but the Irish fought valiantly and matched the title holders stick-for-stick in the first two quarters.
In fact, it was Ireland who had the first shot at the goal and Australia goalie Andrew Charter had to come up with a double save to deny Sean Murray and then Matthew Nelson from the rebound in the fourth minute.
Australia grew in confidence as time passed by and earned a penalty stroke in the 11th minute but the umpire's decision was changed to penalty corner after Ireland asked for video referral.
From the resultant penalty corner, Australia secured another and this time Govers' flick found the back of the Irish net.
But Australia's lead lasted just two minutes as Ireland drew level when O'Donoghue scored after he was set up by Murray, who dribbled past two defenders to pass the ball on to the goal scorer.
The second quarter too produced exciting hockey as both the teams went on the offensive and it was Australia who came close to scoring, but Ireland captain David Harte made a fine save in front of the post to deny Dylan Wotherspoon.
Five minutes into the quarter, Ireland secured their first penalty corner and Charter came to Australia's rescue and kept out O'Donoghue's attempt.
Towards the end of the second quarter, Australia secured back-to-back penalty corners but wasted both as the two teams went into the halfway break locked at 1-1.
Australia restored their lead four minutes after the breather through Brand. Corey Weyer's workmanship in the midfield finally helped Australia when his inch-perfect through ball found Brand unmarked inside the box and the striker scored from his second attempt.
Inner Mongolia's 'brave 18'
Unusual it may sound, but very few people know that China's entire 18-member men's hockey team making its debut in the World Cup belongs to just one province -- Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. China is made up of 34 provinces.
These 18 brave hearts fought hard and stunningly held world no.7 England with a last-minute goal to eke out a point from the encounter.
China's men's hockey team's best result in the sport till date is a silver medal finish at the 2006 Doha Asian Games but they sprung a surprise in its maiden World Cup match.
England started the match as overwhelming favourites, but the Chinese stunned their opponents early in the game when Xiaoping Gao (5th minute) scored a brilliant field goal from a tight angle after dribbling past three defenders.
Taken aback by the goal, the Englishmen went on the offensive and finally managed to equalise a minute from the first quarter when Mark Gleghorne (14th) converted a penalty corner.
Thereafter, it was a struggle for the English to break the resolute Chinese defence despite enjoying lion's share of possession and creating numerous chances.
A silly defensive mistake by Yang Ao inside the box allowed England to take the lead through Liam Ansell in the 48th minute.
But the Chinese didn't give up and continued to show sparks in patches. While defending stoutly, they also started to threaten the English citadel with swift counter-attacks.
China's persistence finally bore fruit and the brave men broke England's heart just a minute from the final hooter.
From one such counter-attack China secured a penalty corner in the 59th minute, which was inarguably their last try, and Talake Du was precise with his dragflick to sent his dug out into a frenzy.
China's South Korean coach Sang Ryul Kim praised the lion-hearted efforts of his men, saying the result came as a "surprise" to him.
"We came here with no high expectation as we are making our debut. What we wanted was to show fight and we did that today. It was a gritty performance from the boys and it was a good surprise to see us score 2 goals today," Kim said after the match.
China will next play Ireland on December 4 while England will be up against reigning two-time world champions Australia on the same day.