As the FIH Pro League is entering its final phases, both in men and women, Belgium has started its home round with a double winning its matches against South Africa (men) and China (women) comfortably.
For Belgium men it was business as usual for Tom Boon as he scored another three goals as the hosts put on a masterclass in game management against South Africa. Against China, the Belgium women put on a passing masterclass with two of their three goals splitting the normally solid China defence.
Belgium men dashed South Africa’s hopes of a first win in the FIH Pro League when it put on a clinical display of goalscoring and possession play to dominate proceedings in this mid-week fixture.
Nicolas de Kerpel opened the scoring for Belgium when he ran onto a cross from Arthur de Sloover in the fifth minute of the game. It was another 21 minutes before the Red Lions found the net again and that was largely thanks to the heroic goalkeeping efforts of Gowan Jones and Siyavuya Nolutshungu who shared responsibilities during the match.
The next goal was the first of three from Tom Boon. Clever running in the circle by the striker meant he received the ball from Tanguy Cosyns behind the line of defence and was able to tap it home for Belgium’s second.
South Africa was unlucky when Conor Beauchamp’s penalty corner strike bounced off the post and Beauchamp came close a few minutes later when his shot just flew wide of the Belgium goal.
Tom Boon’s second goal was a ripper of a penalty corner that flew into the goal after taking a touch from Nicholas Spooner. Alexander Hendrickx was next to find his way onto the scoresheet, again from a penalty corner.
The fifth and final goal came from the stick of Tom Boon as he latched onto a penalty corner rebound. His shot from a slightly raised ball went into the ground and bounced past the ‘keeper, who was wrong-footed.
If there were to be a criticism of the Belgium team it would be that during the match it had 43 circle entries and 29 shots, with just five goals to show for that amount of attacking incursions. Head Coach Michael van der Heuvel may well see that as an area for improvement.
Boon, Player of the Match, said: ‘I think we didn’t start too well but we built during the game. Their goalies played very well. Our press was good and five goals was a good reward. It was good to have Alex Hendrickx and Arthur van Doren back. We are now building towards the World Cup, so it is good to have all the players back.’
Boon’s goals put him in equal second place in the FIH Pro league goal scorers table, level with Nick Bandurak of England and six behind Harmanpreet Singh of India.
South Africa Head Coach Gareth Ewing said: ‘We showed a lot of intent but the third quarter put the game to bed. the guys played really well defensively. Tomorrow we have to make more of the situations when we have the ball. We need to put them under more pressure. We need to make the goalkeepers make some saves.’
The result moves Belgium to fifth with five games still to play. South Africa remain at the bottom of the table with just one game to play.
Ahead of the first of two matches between Belgium and China, the new Head Coach to China Alyson Annan spoke admiringly of her team’s ‘extraordinary skills levels’ and willingness to work hard.
The first quarter was all about the vision and passing ability of the home side. A beautiful cross-field pass from Pauline Leclef split the China defence and Charlotte Engelbert was on hand to receive the ball, twist and turn past the defence and then place her shot neatly into the corner of Liu Ping’s goal. The second goal came from a cross-field aerial. Captain Michelle Struijk played the next ball swiftly and Alexia T’Serstevens was on hand to tap the ball into the goal. With only a couple of seconds left in the quarter, it seemed as if the China defence had momentarily switched off.
The second quarter saw China with a chance to come back into the game when Gu Bingfeng stepped up to take a penalty stroke after Stephanie vanden Borre stopped the ball on the line with her body. The stroke itself was weak and Elena Sotgui in the Belgium goal had no problem saving it.
There were no further goals in the first half but just 90 seconds into the third quarter and Belgium’s captain Michelle Struijk got onto the scoresheet. An initial shot was well saved by Liu Ping but the rebound fell to Struijk, who made no mistake as she fired the ball home to bring the score to 3-0.
A late surge by China in the fourth quarter saw the visiting side win a series of penalty corners. Eventually Zhang Ying made a penalty corner count with a well-placed shot into the corner of the goal. This was Zhang’s first senior goal. China won more penalty corners in the final minutes but no more goals.
Player of the Match, Michelle Struijk (Belgium) said: ‘It was an important game to win. These games are perfect preparation for the World Cup. Every game we play some good hockey but also we play some bad hockey, so it is good to look back and learn from each match. We were winning 3-0 and now we need to keep the zero and score more goals. That is a big thing for us. We need to find the way to dare to play when we are ahead.’
Alyson Annan, Head Coach to China, said: ‘After the third goal we switched on. We dominated the whole of the second half and we won enough penalty corners to make a difference. We played well in the fourth quarter but we need to be brave, to go for the goal and not be scared to lose.’
The results mean that Belgium are seventh in the FIH Hockey Pro League, just three points behind England. China remain in eighth place.
Belgium 5, South Africa 0
Player of the Match: Tom Boon (Belgium)
Belgium 3, China 1
Player of the Match: Michelle Struijk (Belgium)