(Match Report by FIH) : Belgium’s men and women both claimed impressive wins over Great Britain at the Wilrijkse Plein venue in Antwerp on Saturday (30 May), results which have strengthened their respective prospects of claiming all-important top four finishes in the competition.
The top four finishers in the men’s and women’s FIH Pro League competitions will secure tickets to June’s FIH Pro League Grand Final in Amsterdam and also the FIH Olympic qualifiers, which take place later this year.
Belgium men extended their advantage at the top of the FIH Pro League standings with a scintillating attacking display to earn a 4-2 victory over Great Britain, adding to the 4-0 win they secured over GB in London just under two weeks ago.
The damage was done in the first two quarters, with Cedric Charlier (2), Tom Boon and Alexander Hendrickx giving the world champions a 4-0 half time lead before Phil Roper and Luke Taylor netted in the third and fourth quarters respectively.
The win means that the Red Lions have improved their points percentage to 85.71, while Great Britain have now fallen outside of the top four, dropping to fifth with 48.15 percent.
Belgium’s women avenged their recent 2-0 away defeat against reigning Olympic champions Great Britain by recording a fine 4-1 win on home soil, with Pauline LeClef, Judith Vandermeiren, Anne-Sophie Weyns and team captain Barbara Nelen all on target for a Red Panthers team that continues to confound all expectations in the FIH Pro League.
The lowest ranked team in the competition sit third in the standings with a win percentage of 66.67, with Great Britain currently occupying seventh place with 33.33 percent.
Belgium’s men (FIH World Ranking: 1) were at their brilliant best in the first two quarters against GB (WR:7), with the Red Lions looking capable of scoring almost every time they went forward. Cedric Charlier opened the scoring in the ninth minute, bundling home after Tom Boon’s penalty corner effort was only half-cleared by GB goalkeeper George Pinner.
The strike partnership between Charlier and Boon was in devastating form, with the former soon setting up the latter for an easy tap-in to double the lead just moments after Boon had hit the post with a remarkable improvised effort whilst lying on the ground.
The two players combined again early in the second period, with Boon’s perfect pass being guided home by Charlier before Alexander Hendrickx made it 4-0 when he unleashed a powerful drag-flick into the British goal despite the best efforts of defender David Ames, who could only deflect the ball into the roof of the net.
Great Britain had enjoyed plenty of first half possession but rarely tested Belgium shot-stopper Vincent Vanasch. However, Danny Kerry’s team gave themselves a glimmer of hope midway through the third quarter when the quick-thinking Zach Wallace picked out Phil Roper who made no mistake from close range for his seventh goal of this season’s FIH Pro League, leaving him just one behind competition top scorer Pau Quemada of Spain.
The visitors made things even more interesting when Luke Taylor’s penalty corner drag-flick sailed into the Belgian goal just two minutes into the final quarter. However, despite coach Kerry replacing his goalkeeper with an outfield player in a bid to force the agenda, it was the Belgians who held on for their fifth win in seven matches.
Great Britain’s women (WR:2) were 2-0 winners against Belgium (WR:13) when they met in London just under two weeks ago, a score-line that was reversed in the first fifteen minutes of the re-match in Antwerp.
The Red Panthers – who took two points from a possible three with a shoot-out success in against China in Changzhou just five days ago – matched the achievement of their men’s team by scoring twice in the opening quarter, with Pauline LeClef and Judith Vandermeiren putting the hosts firmly in control.
Both goals came from penalty corners, with LeClef’s fierce forehand strike beating GB goalkeeper Nicola Cochrane at her near post before Vandermeiren doubled the advantage with a close range effort.
Emily Defroand went close to pulling a goal back for Great Britain in the second quarter, but it was Belgium who scored again early in the third period when Alix Gerniers pounced from close range after an fine turn and shot from the excellent Ambre Ballenghien.
A yellow card five minute suspension for Tessa Howard did not help great Britain’s cause, although the visitors did pull a goal back early in the fourth period when Sarah Robertson netted from a slick penalty corner routine.
Great Britain’s hopes of a comeback ended just one minute after Robertson’s strike. A second yellow card for Howard resulted in a second suspension, with Belgium putting their opponents to the sword just seconds later when team captain Barbara Nelen cashed home a blistering strike from the top of the circle to complete the match scoring at 4-1.
A busy weekend of FIH Pro League action starts in Eindhoven on Saturday 1st June when the Netherlands women face Great Britain before USA welcome New Zealand to the Spooky Nook Sports Complex in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.