Match Day 2 of the FIH Pro League saw Great Britain’s men overturn a 4-1 deficit to claimed a stunning 6-5 victory over hosts Spain in front of an enthralled crowd at the Estadio Betero in Valencia.
Spain’s Red Sticks were clearly full of confidence following their impressive shoot-out success over world champions Belgium in last Saturday’s FIH Pro League opener, and produced a sensational first quarter against a Great Britain team who were second best throughout the period.
Xavi Lleonart needed just two minutes to open the scoring when he fired into an unguarded goal after fine build-up play from Enrique Gonzalez before Adam Dixon pulled Great Britain level a minute later with a fine backhand effort. However, a three-goal blitz in just four first quarter minutes put the match firmly in control of the Spaniards, with Marc Bolto, Diego Arana and Albert Beltran’s brilliant, angled deflection into the roof of the GB goal giving the hosts a fully deserved 4-1 advantage at the end of the first period.
To their credit, Great Britain started the second period with a clear determination to show that this match was far from over and pulled a goal back thanks to a low finish from Zach Wallace, who capitalised on Dutch umpire Coen van Bunge’s decision to allow play to continue following a Spanish infringement to find the bottom corner.
Incredibly, the team coached by Danny Kerry netted twice in the third quarter to drag themselves level at 4-4, with Mark Gleghorne slamming home a penalty corner before Man of the Match Adam Dixon netted his second of the match, showing lightning quick reactions to find the target after Sam Ward’s penalty corner drag-flick was saved by Spain goalkeeper Mario Garin.
A wonderful solo goal from team captain Phil Roper put Great Britain into the lead two minutes into the fourth and final quarter, before David Condon’s close-range volley made it 6-4 with three minutes remaining. However, just as it seemed that the result was settled, Spain through caution to the wind by replacing their goalkeeper with an outfield player. It was a tactic that reaped huge rewards in last weekend’s 2-2 draw with Belgium and had an instant impact against Great Britain, with Spain immediately winning a penalty corner that was dispatched into the roof of the GB net at the second attempt by Alvaro Iglesias to set up a frenetic finish to the contest.
A trio of penalty corners in the dying stages gave the Red Sticks the opportunity to claim a draw and force another shoot-out. However, a brilliant stick save on the line from Sam Ward followed by a crucial block from George Pinner denied the hosts a leveller, with Great Britain claiming a 6-5 victory in dramatic circumstances.
Speaking after his team’s incredible victory, Man of the Match Adam Dixon said: “To go 4-1 down it would have been very easy at that point to capitulate, but it is testament to our character and the work we have done over the last few months to make sure we can come back from those situations, to keep going right to the very end in what was a very close game against a very good Spanish team.”
Spain’s Albert Beltran said: “I think we played really good, and our first quarter was really amazing. However, I don’t think we controlled the game at the end so they punished us. I think that we are improving, and we have been improving since we lost in the World Cup [in 2018]. We have to keep our confidence levels going up and keep going forwards.”
The FIH Pro League action continues this weekend with double headers taking place at opposite ends of the planet. On Saturday, the focus switches from Europe to South America as Argentina host Belgium’s men and women at Estadio Municipal de Hockey in Cordoba. On Sunday, two FIH Pro League matches will take place in New Zealand, as the Black Sticks men and women welcome the Netherlands national teams to Auckland’s North Harbour Hockey Stadium.
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