Germany 4 Kookaburras 2

Jamie Dwyer, left, walks off the field as Germany players celebrate.

Jamie Dwyer, left, walks off the field as Germany players celebrate. Photo: AP

Australia has had this day before, and before and before. In the 12 Olympic Games to which it has sent teams since 1964, it has reached the semi-final 11 times, but the final only three times, and the top of the podium once. Jamie Dwyer was the golden goal hero that night in Athens in 2004, and it seemed that many more must follow. Probably now, Dwyer will retire without addition. It is the Colliwobbles, multiplied by the curse of the Bambino, multiplied by Greg Norman.

Coach Ric Charlesworth will not see it that way, of course. He believes in physics, not metaphysics. This team was as thoroughly prepared as any. Indeed, it has become clear that whatever has failed Australia in several sports at these Olympics, funding and resources were not the problem. For the hockey team, it was just that talent, science and preparation did not stand up to the moment. Sport is full of such mysteries.

Charlesworth will puzzle over this one. He and his off-siders started last night, on the pitch, while Germany celebrated. Immediately, he and the players could only offer half-answers: the squandering of chances, mistakes that were severely punished, an inability to win the ball from the Germans. But Dwyer's first answer was his most honest. "I don't know," he said, blankly.

If and when Charlesworth has solutions, it will fall to another to implement them. Charlesworth is contracted to 2014, and said last night that he would not be tempted to extend. He had asked too much of too many already.

Right now, he and all of the Australian team will be hurting as if stabbed. Since Charlesworth took charge in 2009, the Kookaburras have gotten their act together impressively. They are the No 1 ranked team in the world, and holders of the World Cup and Champions Trophy. They are also the reigning Commonwealth Games champions. The Olympic gold medal would complete the set. But not now, and not for this team. Even in their daze last night, some began to realise that this team's journey was over. A new team would have to be identified, with a new set of dynamics, and in time a new coach.

Under Charlesworth, Australia plays robust, high tempo attacking hockey, unapologetically. The joys, but also the risks, were apparent in this tournament. To semi-final day, Australia had created the most chances, had the most penalty corners, scored the most goals and conceded the least. In that last stat, though, there was an omen. The five goals it had conceded all were late in matches against Argentina and Great Britain, forcing a draw in each game. The late goals syndrome reasserted itself yesterday, fatally.

There is no easy opponent in an Olympic semi-final, but Germany was perhaps Australia's least preferred. It is not a nemesis as such, but it does have a modest history of thwarting Australia in major tournaments. The exception was the 2010 World Cup final. Germany is, like Australia, an attacking team, and like Australia, far from timid. The match had flashpoints. "It was a super passionate game," said German coach Max Weise. "It was full of fighting spirit. And we played some hockey." The Germans could not suppress their smiles.

Australia made a dominant start, and all was well when Kieran Gowers opened the scoring from a rebound. Moritz Fuerste equalised for Germany, but Glenn Turner regained the lead for Australia, fishing the ball out from under German goalkeeper Max Weinhold and poking it home at the third attempt.

Two moments turned the match. Firstly, Germany's Oskar Deecke had a clever goal disallowed on review. He trapped a ball at head height, then nudged it over Ausralian goalkeeper Nathan Burgers' head. It was more delicate than it was dangerous, but by the letter of a law Charlesworth dislikes, it was wiped off.

Rather than demoralised, the Germans were galavanised. They looked the bulkier side, but it was Australia that slowed, and Germany wrested control of the match. It got its equaliser when Matthias Witthaus found a metre of space in the circle, and took the lead from a penalty corner when Timo Wess feinted artfully, then slotted home.

Then, from a fast break, Florian Fuchs dived and scored. Charlesworth, still plotting, did not see it. Desperately, Australia substituted its goalkeeper with a midfielder, but could make no inroads. Its Olympics came to an abrupt end. In the post-mortem, Weise said in a typical match against Australia, Germany would expect to have to face 20 "big chances". Yesterday, it was fewer. After disentangling themselves, the Germany outfielders went as one to goakeeper Weinhold and swamped him.

The stats sheet bore out Weise's gut feel. Australia had 14 shots for two goals, Germany nine shots for four. This was what Charlesworth had feared for his team on an off day. Weise, incidentally, is the anti-Australia: in three successive Olympics, he has led Germany's women's team to gold, men's team to gold, and is in the final again.

At match's end, Dwyer sat for a long time in the dug-out with his head downcast. Variously, the Kookaburras said they were "shattered", "gutted", "devastated", "numb" It was the language of loss. "There'll be no sleep tonight, and not much the night after," said one. But the realisation that weighed most gravely was that after four long years, they had fallen short of their grail by two days. For those who chose to play on, it would be another four years, at least. The day that Australia has had too many times before will not end for a long, long time.