Germany’s women and Belgium’s men both recorded key victories in the race to secure an all-important top four finish in the FIH Pro League on Wednesday (12 June), while the Netherlands women were also winners as they ended New Zealand’s Grand Final ambitions. A top four finish in the FIH Pro League comes with tickets to this month’s FIH Pro League Grand Final in Amsterdam and also the FIH Olympic qualifiers, which take place later this year.
Following today’s results in the women’s competition, there are now only three teams in contention to qualify for the two remaining places at the FIH Pro League Grand Final. Despite producing a superb performance against the Netherlands in s’Hertogenbosch, a 3-2 defeat for New Zealand has seen their hopes of reaching the showpiece in Amstelveen disappear. The Black Sticks can no longer acquire enough points to secure a top four finish, with Australia and Germany being the teams most likely to join Argentina and the Netherlands at the Wagener Stadium. Australia sit in third position with three matches remaining, while fourth-placed Germany’s 2-1 victory against fifth-placed Belgium in Krefeld today has put Die Danas within touching distance of the Final Four at the expense of their opponents. Belgium still have a slim mathematical chance of qualifying, but they need results to go in their favour. To see the current women’s FIH Pro League standings, click here.
Belgium’s men produced a magnificent response to their two losses against the Netherlands last weekend, powering a sensational 8-0 away victory over Germany in Krefeld as the reigning world champions put their Grand Final hunt very much back on track. Following an even first quarter, the Red Lions dominated the second, third and fourth periods to condemn Germany’s men to one of their heaviest ever defeats on home soil. Belgium sit behind leaders Australia in the FIH Pro League standings, with Germany dropping to fifth position. To see the current men’s FIH Pro League standings, click here.
Germany v Belgium (women & men) – Crefelder Hockey und Tennis Club, Krefeld (GER)
Despite having lost 4-0 in the reverse fixture in Antwerp, visitors Belgium (FIH World Ranking: 13) needed just four minutes to open the scoring in Krefeld when Ambre Ballenghien pounced on a penalty corner to fire past stranded Germany (WR:5) goalkeeper Julia Sonntag. The Red Panthers were forced to soak up plenty of German pressure for the remainder of the first period but did forced Sonntag into a fine double save in the second quarter, with the shot-stopper twice denying Stephanie Vanden Borre’s penalty corner strike and subsequent follow-up.
The Belgians went into half time with their 1-0 advantage intact, although Charlotte Stapenhorst – who scored three of Germany’s goals in Antwerp – came close to levelling matters with a fine turn and shot on the backhand in the third period only for goalkeeper Aisling D’Hooghe to glove the ball away to safety.
Germany – coached by legendary Belgium men’s international Xavier Reckinger – had 15 minutes to salvage something from the contest and did exactly that, producing a high-quality performance in the final quarter. Nike Lorenz levelled the scores with a backhand strike from the top of the circle that squeezed under the body of D’Hooghe, who was perhaps left unsighted by the close presence of Germany attacker Pia Maertens. The winning goal came from the stick of Maertens with just four minutes remaining, diving in from close range after a wonderful interchange of passes between Germany captain Janne Müller-Wieland and Stapenhorst, giving Die Danas a 2-1 triumph and putting them within touching distance of a berth in the FIH Pro League Grand Final.
When asked about her feelings on Germany’s final quarter fight-back, Player of the Match Nike Lorenz said: “It felt really good. We’ve actually had a couple of games like this, so its always fun to come back and fight until the end. We come back again on Saturday for our game against Australia, then we fly over to the USA to play them. Hopefully after that we can play in the Grand Final.”
The excellent form shown by Germany’s men (WR:6) in recent weeks came to an abrupt halt in the second match of the evening in Krefeld, as Belgium (WR:1) earned a sensational 8-0 away victory against a side that beat them in a shoot-out in the reverse fixture less than two weeks ago. It was a breathtaking display from the Red Lions, who produced the perfect response to back to back defeats against the Netherlands with an energetic and ruthless performance.
There were chances at either end in a goal-less first quarter that gave little indication about what was to come, but second quarter goals from Alexander Hendrickx and Sebastien Dockier (2) put the visitors into a 3-0 half time lead, with Germany’s Timm Herzbruch rattling the frame of the Belgian goal. Penalty corner expert Hendrickx rattled home a fourth at the end of the third quarter before Germany went for broke and replaced goalkeeper Tobias Walter with an outfield player in the hope of triggering a fight-back. However, it was the Belgians who capitalised, taking the score to 6-0 thanks to goals from Tom Boon and Cedric Charlier before Walter was brought back into the action. It did not stop the rampant Belgians from adding to their tally, with Charlier and Victor Wegnez both scoring brilliant efforts to complete the scoring.
“We had to react after our two losses against the Dutch, and I think we did that quite well today”, said Player of the Match Sebastien Dockier. “It helped that they put their ‘keeper on the side, but I think we really put the gas on during the whole game and that is our big win today.”
Netherlands v New Zealand (women) – HC Den Bosch, s-Hertogenbosch (NED)
The bumper crowd packed into HC Den Bosch were treated to a thrilling contest between Netherlands women (WR:1) and New Zealand (WR:6), with the hosts emerging with the win but certainly not having everything their own way.
It was the first time that Black Sticks head coach Graham Shaw had faced Netherlands tactician Alyson Annan since the final of last years Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup London 2018, where Shaw guided his former charges Ireland to a remarkable silver medal.
Following a goal-less first quarter, the Dutch opened up a deserved 2-0 advantage in the second period thanks to Kelly Jonker and Felice Albers, the former scoring her 63rd international goal with a close range volley before Albers netted her first goal for the senior side thanks largely to a superb assist from Xan de Waard.
The Oranje would certainly have extended their lead were it not for some top class goalkeeping from Grace O’Hanlon, who denied Lidewij Welten and Frederique Matla before Olivia Merry gave her side hope with a penalty corner slap-shot from the top of the circle for her tenth goal of the FIH Pro League season.
Merry soon claimed her eleventh from the penalty spot, stunning the crowd by tying the match at 2-2 after Kirsten Pearce was cynically fouled by Lauren Stam. It was a superb fight-back from the Kiwis, but it was the Dutch who snatched their 12th victory in 13 FIH Pro League matches when Xan de Waard fired an emphatic winner with five minutes remaining.
“We started off really well but I think the two goals against were not really necessary”, said Netherlands ace Lidewij Welten, who was named Player of the Match. “In the end we kept on believing that we could win the game, but I think we should have done it earlier in the game. I started off well but we lost a bit of our energy. We need to give full energy to win games, and I think that was a good lesson for ourselves.”