Australia’s hockey men will have to wait until next year’s Olympics for a chance to climb back to the summit after the most agonising of World Cup exits for the Kookaburras in India. 

Coach Colin Batch’s players looked shell-shocked as they trooped off the pitch in Bhubaneswar on Friday, beaten 4-3 by old rivals Germany with their dream of another global final appearance shattered by a goal just six seconds from the end.

In an extraordinary finish, the Kookaburras, despite being outplayed for much of the match, edged into a 3-2 lead with two minutes 35 seconds left and looked poised to pip the Germans just as they had in the Tokyo Olympics semi-final.

But they then succumbed to the drag-flick maestro, Gonzalo Peillat, the one-time Argentine Olympic champ-turned-German citizen, who completed a second-half hat-trick of penalty corners with just 1:42 left on the clock.

There was almost an inevitability about another famous German comeback win as player-of-the-match Niklas Wellen struck the winner just when a penalty shootout looked a certainty.

But the Kookaburras, who’ve now not landed the World Cup nor the Olympic title since 2014, could have no complaints.

More passive than their opponents, they may have been the authors of their own downfall when, with 13 seconds left, Tom Craig got his marching orders for a second green card offence amid some desperate scrambling in defence.

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With Australia down to 10, that may have made all the difference as Wellen got free to latch onto Peillat’s cross and convert with the clock reading 59 minutes, 54 seconds.

“No matter what you ask, I don’t know the answer,” beamed Wellen, pondering how on earth Germany had escaped just as they had against England in the quarter-final when clawing back late from two down before winning a shoot-out.

“Against England, 55 minutes were mostly rubbish and we turned it around with a lot of luck in the last minutes.

“But today we played a great game. Australia are so dangerous on counter-attacks and they made use of that, but we believe in each other and I knew when we went 3-2 down, we’d get one chance at least to tie it up.

“But turning it all around in regular time was crazy.”

Germany had largely dominated and created the lion’s share of chances against the world number one Kookaburras but were still 2-0 down through an 11th-minute penalty corner from the tournament’s leading scorer Jeremy Hayward and a counter-attack finish from Nathan Ephraums just before halftime.

It was Hayward’s 99th goal for Australia in his 199th appearance and he extended his tournament-leading tally to eight.

But the Germans, who had remarkably pulled back another two-goal deficit in the dying minutes against England in the quarter-final, levelled with two penalty corner strikes from Peillat either side of the end of the third quarter.

Blake Govers then produced a brilliant high drag flick to give Australia the late lead — his 127th goal for his country — but it only forced the Germans to take off their goalkeeper in a desperate and successful late comeback surge.

In Sunday’s final, the Germans will meet reigning champions Belgium, who later defeated Netherlands 3-2 in a penalty shoot-out after the match finished 2-2.

The Kookaburras may find it hard to rouse themselves earlier on Sunday for a third-place match against the Dutch.