Belgium’s women overcame a losing position to salvage two points from a potential three in their FIH Pro League encounter with hosts China on Saturday (25 May), claiming a bonus point by winning the shoot-out after regular time finished with the scores locked at 3-3 in Changzhou.
China held a 3-1 lead going into the fourth quarter, but strikes from Emilie Sinia and Michelle Struijk ensured that both teams would take at least a point, before the Red Panthers took the bonus point on offer by triumphing 5-4 in the shoot-out.
The result means that Belgium have strengthened their hold on fourth position in the FIH Pro League standings, narrowing the gap on third place Australia, while China remain in eighth position. The top four finishers in the FIH Pro League will qualify for both the FIH Pro League Grand Final and the FIH Olympic qualifiers.
Despite being the lowest ranked team in the FIH Pro League, Belgium (FIH World Ranking: 13) came into the match sitting fourth in the standings and knew that victory over China (WR:10) would see them move ahead of Australia and into third position.
The Red Panthers were looking to recover from last weekend’s 2-0 loss at the hands of Great Britain in London, and faced a China team that they comprehensively defeated when the two sides met in Brussels in April, where Alix Gerniers scored three times as Belgium triumphed 4-1.
China started the day in eighth position in the FIH Pro League table, and were looking to bounce back from the 3-1 loss they suffered against the USA in Lancaster last weekend.
Going against their respective league positions, China were the better side in the opening exchanges and established a two goal lead inside three minutes as heavy rain fell in Changzhou.
Zhang Xiaoxue scored with a perfectly executed penalty corner deflection before a superb counter-attack was expertly finished by Liang Meiyu, who moved past Belgian goalkeeper Aisling D’Hooghe before firing home from a tight angle.
Belgium recovered well from these two early blows to dominate the latter stages of the first quarter, but China held on and kept their opponents at bay throughout the second period, with goalkeeper Ye Jiao rarely tested by the Europeans.
The Red Panthers made the perfect start to the third quarter when Emma Puvrez scooped home at the second attempt from a penalty corner situation only for China to hit back through Guo Qiu, whose cross-shot from the left was inadvertently diverted across her own goal-line by Belgium shot-stopper D’Hooghe.
The fourth period was packed full of drama, with Belgium piling on the pressure and deservedly pulling themselves level at 3-3. Emilie Sinia volleyed home in the 51st minute before a slick penalty corner routine was converted just two minutes later, with Michelle Stuijk getting the all-important deflection in front of goal.
Whilst Belgium had the momentum, it was China who twice came close to winning the match in a dramatic final minute. The Red Panthers successfully defended a penalty corner before the hosts had the ball in the Belgian net only for it to be correctly ruled out due to an infringement in the lead-up, meaning that a shoot-out would be required to decide which team would take the bonus point.
The first barrage finished with the scores locked together at 4-4, thanks largely to a sensational finish from Belgium’s Stephanie Van Den Borre, who produced a stunning flick into the top right corner to send the shoot-out into sudden-death.
Alix Gerniers scored what proved to be the decisive goal, with Belgium goalkeeper D’Hooghe forcing China’s Liang Meiyu into missing the target.
The Europeans had claimed two points from a maximum three away from home, keeping their top four ambitions very much on track.
The FIH Pro League continues on Thursday 30th May when Belgium’s women and men welcome Great Britain to Antwerp.