Women’s FIH Pro League
England 2 Belgium 1
The three-day heatwave in Southern England broke, and England Women came from 1-0 down to beat Belgium 2-1 and break the Belgians’ five game unbeaten Pro League run, although China had won a shootout 2-0 after a 1-1 draw in Antwerp ten days earlier.
Belgium had last lost in normal time on 20 May when they lost 2-1 to Spain in Antwerp, the goals coming at similar times in both games with Belgium scoring in the fifth minute through Ambre Ballenghien, before Spain equalised through Laura Barrios in the 43rd minute and Georgina Oliva netting the winner nine minutes later.
At Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre, it was Michelle Struijk’s turn to give Belgium the lead in the sixth minute with Tess Howard levelling in the 42nd minute and Grace Balsdon amazingly scoring the winning goal nine minutes after the equaliser.
Before the game there had been drizzle in the air with the floodlights needed during the match with the warm temperature masked by breezy conditions.
England, ranked fourth in the world, had the first opportunity, Giselle Ansley unable to capitalise on the hosts first penalty corner, awarded after Stephanie Vanden Borre fouled Lily Owsley in the third minute. Two minutes later, Maddie Hinch was forced to kick away a ball played into the circle by Alexia ‘T Serstevens and in the sixth minute, Alix Gerniers played the ball through to Struijk, who lifted the ball before volleying the ball just inside the left post for a delightful finish to give Belgium, ranked two places below England, the lead.
Belgium dominated the first quarter with ‘T Serstevens tackled by Hollie Pearne-Webb and Judith Vandermeiren looking dangerous in the circle, whilst the visitors’ defence stood firm to quell an attack with Owsley, Fiona Crackles, Flora Peel combining before Sophie Hamilton was thwarted on the edge of the circle towards the end of the quarter.
Aisling D’Hooghe replaced Elena Sotgiu in the Belgian goal at the start of the second quarter as Belgium rotated their goalkeepers. England had to defend three penalty corners in 45 seconds following ‘T Serstevens managing to find an English foot after receiving a cross circle pass from Pauline Leclef, with Izzy Petter painfully forcing a second set piece as the hosts’ number one runner, Vanden Borre unable to convert either. The third was spectacularly saved by Hinch, Vanden Borre frustrated again.
In the 23rd minute it was England’s turn to force their second penalty corner of the match, the ball slipped to Anna Toman to shoot on goal. England controversially lost their right to video referral after video replays seemed to justify England’s decision to ask for a referral, but the referral was not upheld.
Belgium conceded a penalty corner just 46 seconds into the third quarter, Howard’s run seeing ‘T Serstevens knocked over before Vanden Borre’s stick brought Howard down on the edge of the circle. A poor injection trap was recovered but Crackles couldn’t find her way through the Belgian defence. An immediate counter attack saw Charlotte Englebert penalized for running into Hinch, but from Belgium’s next attack, it was Hinch who denied Englebert with a fine double save. In between Holly Hunt had been unlucky to fail to make contact at the right post with Petter’s pass.
The tide started to turn with Sotgiu, back in goal for the third quarter, making a double save from Sophie Hamilton and Hannah Martin before Crackles ran towards goal and found Howard, who rotated before smashing the ball against the backboard just inside the left post, celebrating with arms outstretched.
England’s winning goal came in the 51st minute from their fourth penalty corner, Balsdon also finding the backboard to complete the comeback.
Belgium lost their right to a video referral in the 58th minute, asking for a penalty corner when the ball had actually struck Giselle Ansley on the arm and England successfully ran down the clock with Belgium electing not to sacrifice D’Hooghe for an eleventh outfield player to chase the equaliser.
The teams meet for the second game of the doubleheader at 1 pm (BST) on Sunday.
Scorers: Tess Howard 42-F, Grace Balsdon 51-PC
Starters: Maddie Hinch (GK); Laura Unsworth, Anna Toman, Hannah Martin, Ellie Rayer, Tess Howard, Giselle Ansley, Hollie Pearne-Webb (Capt.), Shona McCallin, Lily Owsley, Flora Peel.
Subs: Fiona Crackles (3 mins), Holly Hunt (4), Izzy Petter (4), Sophie Hamilton (4), Grace Balsdon (6), Lily Walker (6).
Sub not used: Sabbie Heesh (GK).
Cards: Green: Anna Toman (30 mins).
Scorer: Michelle Struijk 6-F
Starters: Charlotte Englebert, Judith Vandermeiren, Emma Puvrez, Louise Versavel, Michelle Struijk, Barbara Nelen (Capt.), Stephanie Vanden Borre, Elena Sotgiu (GK), Lien Hillewaert, Alexia ‘T Serstevens, Hélène Brasseur.
Subs: Justine Rasir (3 mins), Alix Gerniers (4), Ambre Ballenghien (4), Lucie Breyne (4), France De Mot (4), Pauline Leclef (6), Aisling D’Hooghe (16).
Cards: Green: Justine Rasir (44 mins).
Umpires: Alison Keogh (Ireland) and Michelle Meister (Germany).