England 1 China 1 (China win 4-3 on shootout)
England women discovered to their cost how a situation can change within seconds, going from leading 1-0 with just 2.9 seconds remaining of normal time to concede an equalising goal and then losing out on a shootout to begin their home FIH Pro League campaign with just one point instead of three.
China, ranked 14th to England’s fourth World Ranking, had lost their first four games of their 2021-22 Pro League schedule with double defeats against India in Muscat and Argentina in Valencia and but for the last gasp leveller, would have gone down to a fifth successive defeat rather than gaining their first two points of the current competition.
England dominated the first quarter but couldn’t make the all-important breakthrough, in spite of Tess Howard going close in only the fifth minute. In the second quarter, China came closest to scoring in the 21st minute when only goalkeeper, Sabbie Heesh’s clearance from just in front of her goal-line kept England’s clean sheet intact. Shortly afterwards, Howard gave the Chinese defence more problems with another shot just wide of the post.
Two minutes before the half time interval, China’s Hong Li bravely defended England’s second penalty corner of the match to ensure that the game remained goalless at the break.
In the third quarter, England took the game to China and were finally rewarded in the 39th minute, Howard celebrating her return from injury with a goal, deflecting Lily Owsley’s effort to break Chinese goalkeeper Ping Liu’s resistance.
The fourth quarter was spoiled to a certain extent by the number of video referrals and the time taken to resolve them, in particular when China were awarded a penalty stroke in the 49th minute, only for the decision to be reversed by the time that the Lee Valley crowd had started to demonstrate their impatience by slow handclapping whilst waiting for the final decision. The award had followed China’s first penalty corner.
England had missed the opportunity to extend their lead with a succession of penalty corners in the 43rd and 46th minutes and they paid the price when from the second attempt after the final hooter, Bingfeng Gu converted a Chinese penalty corner to earn China a valuable point and force a shootout.
Howard went first in the shootout and found the backboard, only for Tiantian Luo to immediately level the score at 1-1. England were on the backfoot when Hannah Martin ran out of time to restore the hosts’ lead from their second attempt and Hong Li put China ahead with a shot into the net just above the backboard.
Owsley restored parity with another successful backboard shot, only for Xindan Xhang to keep China back in front at 3-2. Flora Peel levelled matters at 3-3 before the momentum swung towards China after Jiaqi Xhong gave China a 4-3 lead, only for another video referral to be necessary to confirm that the goal was scored within the statutory eight seconds margin.
Ellie Rayer was tasked with England’s fifth attempt but Ping Liu brought Rayer down in the circle and after yet another video referral, a penalty stroke was awarded. Grace Balsdon had been denied from English penalty corners in normal time and she was to be denied again by Ping Liu, the save giving China the extra point for winning the shootout.
England’s solitary point saw them join Belgium and Spain on nine points but with games in hand on both teams and they will hope to secure all three points when they host China for the second game of the weekend at 1430 BST on Sunday.
Scorer: Tess Howard 39-F
Starters: Hannah Martin, Holly Hunt, Ellie Rayer, Giselle Ansley, Hollie Pearne-Webb (Capt.), Fiona Crackles, Sabbie Heesh (GK); Lily Owsley, Flora Peel, Grace Balsdon, Alex Malzer.
Subs: Laura Unsworth (4 mins), Tess Howard (4), Lizzie Neal (4), Sophie Hamilton (6), Lily Walker (6), Martha Taylor (7).
Sub not used: Miriam Pritchard (GK).
Cards: Green: Martha Taylor (56 mins).
Scorer: Bingfeng Gu 60-PC
Starters: Bingfeng Gu, Jiaqi Li (Capt.), Qiuxia Cui, Xindan Zhang, Hong Li, Yanhua Chen, Xiaoxue Zhang, Haoting Yang, Tiantian Luo, Ping Liu (GK), Jiaqi Zhong.
Subs: Ning Ma (4), Liyu Zhu (4), Meng Yuan (4), Ling Chen (4), Yangyan Gu (6), Meiyu Liang (6),
Sub not used: Huarui Ouyang (GK).
Umpires: Xiaoying Liu (China) and Michelle Meister (Germany)