Photo Credits : Getty Images

(Brussels, Belgium : Match Report by FIH) – Belgium women continued their sparkling form in the FIH Pro League with yet another victory over higher-ranked opposition, powering to a 4-1 win against China as the Royal Uccle Sports Complex in Brussels played host to the Red Panthers’ first home match in the competition.

An enthused crowd watched with joy as Alix Gerniers hit a hat-trick to ensure that Belgium marked their FIH Pro League home debut in winning fashion.

It was Belgium’s third victory in five matches – four of which have been on the road – for the team coached by Niels Thijssen, as the ever-improving Europeans moved ahead of Australia and into third in the standings.

Belgium have claimed 66.67 percent of the points available in their five matches played to date, with defeat for China leaving them second from bottom of the standings with 25.93 percent.

Despite being the lowest ranked team in the competition, Belgium (FIH World Ranking: 13) have already provided plenty of evidence in this inaugural edition of the FIH Pro League that they are force to be reckoned with.

Following a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Argentina in Cordoba in their opening fixture, the Red Panthers snatched wins in both New Zealand (1-0) and Australia (2-1) in February before recently suffering a slight set-back in their narrow shoot-out defeat against USA in Lancaster.

Belgium’s match day opponents China (WR:10) have proven to be stubborn opponents in all of their eight FIH Pro League matches leading up to today’s fixture, with notable home wins over Germany (2-1) and New Zealand (1-0) being coupled with two strong showings against current league leaders Argentina, with Las Leonas winning 1-0 both home and away.

The host nation found themselves under pressure in the early stages of their FIH Pro League home debut, but soon found their rhythm and created the better of the chances in the first quarter.

Ye Jiao, China’s world class goalkeeper, made excellent reaction saves to deny efforts from Emma Puvrez, Ambre Ballenghien and Emilie Sinia, while a Gu Bingfeng penalty corner drag-flick was expertly charged down by the Belgium defence.

China’s resistance was eventually broken in the 22nd minute by Alix Gerniers, who crashed a backhand strike through the legs of Ye a moment after the lively Ballenghien rattled the frame of the goal with a penalty corner deflection. Whilst it was a lead that Belgium unquestionably deserved, the Red Panthers were perhaps a little fortunate to maintain their slender advantage going into half time.

Peng Yang had the best chance in the latter stages of the second quarter, almost restoring parity with a clever diving deflection that travelled the wrong side of Belgium goalkeeper Aisling D’Hooghe’s left post.

Belgium were absolutely brilliant in the third quarter, scoring three times without reply to open up a 4-0 advantage.

Eighteen-year-old attacker Ballenghien scored her first FIH Pro League goal with a fine lifted finish over the onrushing Ye to make it 2-0, before Gerniers scored two angled penalty corner deflections to complete her hat-trick and all but seal a Belgian victory with one quarter still to play.

China fought hard in the final quarter and reduced the deficit thanks to a smart backhand finish from Liang Meiyu, but it proved only a consolation as the Red Panthers continue to prove their quality at the highest possible level.

The FIH Pro League action continues on Wednesday 10 April with three matches on European soil.

Belgium’s Red Panthers and Red Lions will take to the field at against USA women and Spain men respectively at Royal Uccle, while the Netherlands women host China at SV Kampong in Utrecht.

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