In a thrilling showdown, England’s Men lost 3-5 to reigning Olympic Champions Belgium in their opening match of EuroHockey Championships 2023 on Sunday.
It was Nick Bandurak (8’, 26’) and Sam Ward (30’) who got on the scoresheet for England while Florent van Aubel (31’, 32’) bagged a brace, while William Ghislain (12’), Loick Luypaert (40’) and Alexander Hendrickx (41’) scored a goal each for Belgium.
Belgium started the match on the front foot, making inroads with a structured attack at the start of the match. It was Nelson Onana who took the first shot for Belgium that was blocked by Ollie Payne.
England, on the other hand, were slow to get off the blocks, but were successful in breaking the deadlock in the eighth minute through Bandurak’s scintillating field goal from the right flank. He made the circle entry from the baseline and passed the ball to Zach Wallace, whose shot was missing the target, but Bandurak being at the right place, adeptly spun and redirected the ball into the nets, putting England 1-0 ahead.
However, the lead was short lived as Belgium equalised through Ghislain’s field goal in the 12th minute. England earned two penalty corners in the closing stage of the first quarter but missed out on regaining the lead as the Belgian defence averted the danger to end the quarter at 1-1.
Belgium started the second quarter brightly, earning their first penalty corner of the in the 20th minute, but England’s defensive line denied their opponents from taking the lead. England immediately earned their third penalty corner of the match but couldn’t take the opportunity.
Minutes later, they had yet another penalty corner, which was rewarded to a penalty stroke as James Albery’s deflection hit the body of the Belgium defender near the goalpost, drawing the penalty stroke.
Bandurak’s attempt was saved, but the penalty stroke was rewarded on a video referral as the Belgium goalkeeper had moved in front of the line before the shot was taken. Bandurak made no mistake in the second attempt as his fiery strike went past the Belgium goalie, putting England 2-1 ahead in the 26th minute.
Two minutes later, Belgium earned as many as three penalty corners, but England’s defensive line stood tall to deny Belgium from equalising. Tom Sorby’s line save with full face of the stick was the highlight of those three penalty corner defences.
With less than a minute to for halftime, England earned their fourth penalty corner, and Ward’s fiery drag-flick helped his team extend the lead to 3-1.
Within two minutes of the restart, Belgium equalised through a brace from van Aubel. He scored the team’s second goal on a rebound during the penalty corner routine in the 31st minute, while the equaliser was scored from an open play in the 32nd minute. With things back at level terms, England were pushed on the back foot.
Belgium went on to dictate the proceedings and capitalised on the momentum as they added two more goals through penalty corners within one minute. Luypaert scored the fourth goal in the 40th minute, while Hendrickx scored the fifth in the 41st minute, making the scoreline 5-3 to Belgium.
England responded quickly; they also had a penalty corner in the same minute but missed out on converting it. Thus trailing 3-5 at the end of the third quarter.
England showcased urgency in the final quarter and created potential goalscoring opportunities but couldn’t find an opening. Belgium too made inroads, but England kept them at bay. England pushed very hard for the goal, but Belgium slowed down the proceedings to take home a comeback win.
Reflecting on the match, Bandurak stated, “It must have been good for the neutral, but from our perspective, we are pretty frustrated. We got ourselves in a really good position going into half-time, we played some good hockey, defended well, and took our chances, which you got to do when you play the Olympic Champions. But, ultimately it was the third quarter where we let ourselves down. We didn’t play our brand of hockey, we obviously let a few goals slip and that cost us the game.”
England men will take on Austria in their second match tomorrow at 12:15 UK Time. Speaking about the next match, Bandurak said, “We did play some good hockey at times today, but we need to make sure we do that for the entire 60 minutes to have success against the best teams. It’s a quick turnaround but we got to move and get ourselves mentally and physically ready because it’s a big game tomorrow.”