The Belgians were surprised by an ultra-realistic Australian team. A painful defeat which will above all seriously complicate the rest of their journey in the World Cup.
The calculations were simple for the Belgian players. To finish at the top of pool D and put themselves in the best conditions to approach the quarter-finals, it was mandatory to win the second group match against Australia. But opposed to the 3rd nation in the world, the Panthers would have to move up a gear and seriously increase the level to overcome a physical and very rough team in the duels. Indeed, the initial meeting against South Africa on Sunday had not reached the standards of recent weeks even if Raoul Ehren’s players had finally managed to emerge 4-1 by offering a much better last quarter.
After a fairly long period of observation, Belgium nevertheless took the most interesting initiatives during this first quarter of an hour. The Red Panthers were energetic and won quite a few balls although they didn’t always put them to good use as they approached the Aussie circle. But in the 14th minute, however, they got the first penalty of the game. Stephanie Vanden Borre’s sleep was pushed back and on the rebound, it was Ambre Ballenghien who sent the ball just wide of the cage. As expected, this meeting was not going to offer a multitude of possibilities to the attackers and we were going to have to be very skilful in the closing zone.
Two goals conceded at 10
The rest of the debates were in the same vein. The Belgians tried to speed up the game and play in combination to surprise their opponent but the opposing defensive block was well in place and solid on its bases. The Australians pressed high and often blocked the Panthers’ initiatives. And in the end, with the exception of 3 new possibilities for Stephanie Vanden Borre on penalty, the big seventy Belgian supporters present in Terrassa did not have much else to eat during this first period dominated, largely by their favourites.
In the second half, the Panthers tried to play faster and combine quickly to surprise their opponents. They obtained a new penalty pushed back by the Australian goalkeeper before Ambre Ballenghien offered a new opportunity to open the scoring. But it was the Hockeyroos who finally found the opening in the 39th minute via Greta Hayes on their first shot on goal of the game. And it was even a cold shower a few seconds later when Rebecca Greiner scored number 2. Two goals scored as the Belgians were reduced to 10 after Pauline Leclef’s green card. Raoul Ehren’s proteges did try to react but, in the pouring rain, morale was gone. They still got several penalties but nothing helped.
A defeat (2-0) which hurts all the more as the 5th nation in the world offered a rather good performance as a whole but which was sorely lacking in lucidity as it approached the conclusion zone. Raoul Ehren’s proteges did not find the key despite 9 pc and some good possibilities against an ultra realistic opponent who had, for him, the experience of major meetings and the management of key moments.
An expected reaction to Japan
“We did everything we had to, but we didn’t have that necessary bit of luck”, regretted Barbara Nelen, totally annoyed. “They hardly had any circle entries during the 60 minutes but they scored twice. We should have won this game. We will do everything we can to react tomorrow against Japan. It’s not our style to calculate and lose to try to avoid the Netherlands in the quarter-finals. We want to react and still continue to progress. We want to show our fans that we can play hockey well. We have already demonstrated this today and we can be proud of it. We must also continue to think about the Paris Games and take care of the details to become even stronger. For the same price, this match ended with the score of 4-0 for Belgium.
Mathematically, Belgium can still claim first place in Group D. However, there is little chance that Australia will lose this Wednesday against the South Africans in their last group match. The Panthers will therefore have to settle for 2nd or 3rd place depending on their result against Japan (6:00 p.m.). A defeat which means above all that they will fly to Amsterdam, on Thursday morning, to prepare for an 8th final against Germany, Chile or Ireland to secure their place in the quarter-finals. A terrible disappointment certainly given the ambitions displayed at the start of this World Cup…