The line-up and fixtures for the FIH Pro League Grand Final, which takes place between 27-30 June at Amsterdam’s world famous Wagener Stadium, has been finalised after a dramatic and historic final day of regular season action on Sunday (23rd June).
With the line-up for the women’s Grand Final event already confirmed, all eyes were on the men’s competition as Olympic champions Argentina and Great Britain both targeted the one remaining berth in the upcoming showpiece in Amsterdam. However, Argentina’s 4-1 defeat at the hands of world champions Belgium in Antwerp denied the Pan American giants the point they needed to guarantee qualification, with Great Britain’s 2-0 victory over New Zealand in front of 12,000 fans on a magnificent occasion at The Stoop being enough to put GB into the final four by virtue of a superior goal difference.
Great Britain’s fourth place finish in the regular FIH Pro League season means that they will meet table-toppers Australia in their semi-final on Friday 28 June at 1715 Central European Summer Time (UTC / GMT+2), with Belgium and Netherlands – who finished second and third respectively – meeting in the other semi-final at 1900 local time. A complete list of the fixtures for the FIH Pro League Grand Final can be found below or by clicking here.
The final matches of the women’s FIH Pro League also took place on Sunday. World champions the Netherlands claimed their 15th win in 16 matches by beating Australia in Amsterdam while Argentina defeated Belgium in Antwerp. Like their men’s team, Great Britain’s women were also winners against New Zealand at the Twickenham Stoop – where pioneering technology has been used to lay a temporary hockey pitch in a rugby stadium – as the Olympic champions ended their FIH Pro League campaign on a positive note with a 3-1 victory. More information about all of today’s matches can be found below.
Ahead of today’s games, the team captains gave recognition to Olympic Day, the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) initiative from to encourage the world to get active, learn about the Olympic values and discover new sports. The International Hockey Federation (FIH) – whose global Hockey4LIFE programme encourages people of all ages to START, PLAY and STAY in hockey – and the entire global hockey community is proud to support this initiative.
Olympic champions Argentina (FIH World Ranking: 4) arrived in Antwerp’s Wilrijkse Plein knowing that a point against world champions Belgium (WR:1) – a match that was a repeat of the gold medal game at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games – would be enough for them to secure a place in the FIH Pro League Grand Final. However, an away match against the top ranked team in the game was never going to be an easy place to achieve it.
Things could not have got off to a worse start for Los Leones, with the Red Lions opening the scoring just 30 seconds into the match when Cedric Charlier brilliantly deflected a cross from the right into the top left corner before Maxime Plennevaux doubled the advantage with a rasping strike towards the end of the first quarter. The visitors had their chances with Matias Paredes – playing his 350th game for Argentina – and Lucas Martinez going close before Leandro Tolini flashed a penalty corner effort just wide of the target. Belgium moved into a 4-0 lead in the third quarter, with Charlier scoring his second before Felix Denayer found the bottom right corner from a penalty corner. Ignacio Ortiz scored a consolation goal in the fourth quarter, but Belgium were comfortable winners and will go into next week’s semi-final match against the Netherlands in confident mood.
“I think to have the lead really early is always something to take into account”, said Player of the Match Cedric Charlier. “It made the game today a bit easier for us as they had to chase the score, and we really like to have a bit more space to attack and play our game.”
Defeat for Argentina very much opened the door for Great Britain (WR:7), who knew if they could beat bottom-of-the-table New Zealand (WR:8) in their historic match at the Twickenham Stoop they would secure a place in the FIH Pro League Grand Final. However, they faced a Black Sticks team that have played very well in recent weeks and certainly were not to be underestimated.
With 12,000 predominantly British fans creating a raucous atmosphere, it was perhaps surprising that the visitors enjoyed the better of the opening moments, winning two penalty corners but not converting their chances. However, Great Britain soon settled and took the lead in the sixth minute thanks to a backhand strike from Chris Griffiths and largely dominated the first two quarters, with Zach Wallace going close to extending the lead when he hit the crossbar. Great Britain’s failure to add to their lead made for a tense final two quarters as New Zealand grew into the contest. However, a breakaway goal midway through the fourth period from Alan Forsyth, finishing from close range after an neat interchange between Ashley Jackson and Player of the Match Griffiths, gave Great Britain the cushion they needed to seal their place in next week’s showpiece at the Wagener Stadium.
“It feels like the last six months has all been worth it, to be honest”, said Great Britain captain Adam Dixon. “It’s been a long hard road, but to qualify for the Finals, knowing that we have got a couple of extra games to play now is a huge incentive. To do it in front of a fantastic crowd like this is even better.”
The Netherlands (WR:1) women reinforced their status as the team to beat at next week’s FIH Pro League Grand Final event with a 3-1 win over Australia’s Hockeyroos (WR:3) at the Wagener Stadium in Amsterdam. Goals from Ireen van den Assem, Laurien Leurink and Maria Verschoor gave the Oranje their 15th win from 16 FIH Pro League matches, gaining a measure of revenge against the only team to have defeated them in this competition. The Netherlands face Germany in the semi-finals of next week’s showpiece, with Australia playing Argentina.
The Oranje delighted a packed stadium by opening the scoring in the first quarter thanks to Ireen van den Assem’s penalty corner drag-flick, although excellent Australian defence frustrated the home side for long periods. The world number one finally got some breathing space when goals from Laurien Leurink and a Maria Verschoor – the latter smashing a backhand strike into the roof of the Australian goal from a tight angle – took the score to 3-1 before the Emily Chalker netted for the Hockeyroos to finish the scoring at 3-1. Speaking after the match, Player of the Match Maria Verschoor said: “We had a lot of control and we played a good match. We had a lot of chances but it was only at the end when we really made the goals. Australia was defending really well so we had to be patient. We scored the goals in the end, so that is really good. I think in the last couple of matches we weren’t at our best, but I think we are progressing and are confident [going into the Finals].”
Argentina (WR:4) were victorious in their final match of the regular FIH Pro League season, earning a confidence boosting 2-1 victory over Belgium (WR:13) in Antwerp ahead of their clash with Australia at next week’s FIH Pro League Grand Final event in Amsterdam.
Both of Argentina’s goals came in the second quarter of the match, opening up a 2-0 lead thanks to open play efforts from Micaela Retegui and Maria Granatto. Granatto’s effort was the goal of the game, cutting in from the right and evading five Belgian players before firing a backhand strike from the top of the circle into the bottom right corner. Belgium were competitive throughout but did not manage to score until the final minute when Stephanie Vanden Borre produced a moment of magic with a brilliant half volley. It was a goal that they deserved, but the victory was Argentina’s.
“We had maybe a weaker start and they scored two easy goals, where we didn’t have enough energy on and off the ball”, said Belgium’s Stephanie Vanden Borre after the match. “In the second half we had a good reaction, we started to push and we scored a goal in the last minute. It’s just a pity that they scored the two easy goals [early in the game]”.
Great Britain’s women (WR:2) ended their FIH Pro League campaign on a positive note, thrilling the fans packed into The Stoop with a 3-1 victory over New Zealand’s Black Sticks (WR:6). It was a positive finish for what has been a difficult campaign for the Olympic champions, but a hard-earned win in front of 12,000 fans will certainly give them reason to be optimistic about the future.
Hannah Martin’s fortuitous goal put Great Britain ahead midway through the second quarter, with Lily Owsley scoring twice in the third quarter to put her side into an unassailable lead. New Zealand – who had two goals disallowed in the contest – reduced the deficit at the end of the third quarter when Olivia Merry scored her 15th goal of the competition with instinctive overhead volley. It was the final goal of the game, with Great Britain taking the three points.
“What an occasion and what an experience”, said Great Britain’s double goal-scorer Lily Owsley after the match. “The crowd were amazing, they were really cheering us on. We knew we needed a third goal, we needed a bit of security. This [New Zealand] team is fit and fast, we knew they would not stop running and keep coming at us. I was happy I got to put them in.”