FIH Pro League: England men, women and Belgium men win; the Netherlands women take bonus against Argentina

Absorbing games were witnessed in the FIH Pro League on Saturday. In the four games scheduled for the day, the hosts England men and women, won their games against South Africa and Spain, respectively while Belgium overpowered France in another match in men’s section. 

The Netherlands and Argentina did not disappoint in the women’s game that got the former a bonus. A penalty corner goal from each side sent the game to a shootout. 

The Dutch scored four straight goals in the shootout and thanks to two saves from keeper Josine Koning they earned the bonus. 

Over in London, the hosts, England, powered their way to a 3-1 win over the always tenacious Spanish side. 

On the men’s side, England was clinical on its penalty corner finishes to take the game 4-2 over South Africa. South Africa tried a comeback. Two goals in the fourth quarter were well finished but too little, too late. Over in Belgium, it was all penalty corner scoring including two from Belgium and a consolation flick for France to give the home side the three points and 2-1 victory. 

As expected, it was an energetic match from start to finish between the Netherlands and Argentina. There were plenty of penalty corner chances on both sides, while stellar goalkeeping and stingy defence made chances of a field goal a stiff feat. Penalty corner finishes from Dutch flicker Frédérique Matla and Argentina’s ace deflector Maria Granatto left the game level 1-1. 

In the opening quarter Argentina had a pair of penalty corner chances. Agustina Gorzelany, the league’s current top goal scorer, ricocheted a rocket flick off the cross bar forcing the Dutch to scramble to clear the ball. Lidewij Welten expertly ran down Gorzelany’s second attempt minutes later and the teams settled for a scoreless quarter.

Frédérique Matla showed great composure in the circle in the 29th minute to find the foot of Argentine defender Victoria Sauze. Matla was the beneficiary of her own hard work as her drag flick beat Belen Succi stick side to give the Netherlands a 1-0 lead heading into half time.

The Leonas continued to hunt down a response despite lots of opportunities in the Netherlands circle. A back-hand cross from Agustina Albertarrio appeared to beat Josine Koning in the Dutch goal but Maria Granatto couldn’t get the finishing touch. Quality defence kept both teams off the scoresheet in the third quarter. Argentina finally found its equalizer in the final minutes of the game. A textbook finish on a penalty corner delivery from Gorzelany found the stick of Maria Granatto for an expert deflection to draw the game 1-1. Agustina Albertarrio forced a penalty corner with 55 seconds to go but Gorzelany’s flick was brilliantly steered away by Netherlands post-player Sanne Koolen.

In the shootout, Netherlands keeper Koning steered Victoria Grantor wide for the opening shot and from there the Dutch went four-for-four to secure the extra point. Matla’s spin, Yibbi Jansen’s patient back-hand, Kyra Fortuin’s flick and Xan de Waard’s calm finish were enough to overcome the skilled Leonas. Argentina did notch finishes from Albertarrio on the back-hand and Gorzelany on a penalty stroke after Trinchinetti’s attempt but the Leonas were left to settle for the single point.

Player of the match and Dutch captain Xan de Waard said after the game: ‘It’s a shame that we drew the game. Of course we won with shootouts but we want to win in full time. I think it went pretty well because we haven’t been together in a few months so after the championships, being together for the first time, we played okay. Of course, some mistakes but we can learn a lot from this game and hopefully tomorrow we can take the win.’

Argentina’s Eugenia Trinchinetti said after the match: ‘Now I’m a little bit angry as we wanted the three points but I’m happy with the team. We have had a really good match. I think the shootouts are a bit lucky so maybe we need to see the video and prepare for the next match. Today, though I think that we looked to get the win every time and we were aggressive and tried to score.’

England came out with a solid 4-2 victory over the always-unpredictable South African side who rallied for two fourth-quarter goals. The opening quarter saw skipper David Condon unmarked at the top of the circle but his high shot blasted wide of the South African cage. Then, the right foot of keeper Siyavuya Nolutshungu denied a low Sam Ward flick booked for the corner. In the 10th minute Nick Bandurak put away a penalty corner flick with power and precision, beating Nolutshungu glove side just above the back board.

A solid second quarter from England gave the home side a 3-0 edge by half time. Bandurak scored his second of the game in the 19th minute as his flick ricocheted off defender Jesthro Eustice to make it 2-0. South African keeper Gowan Jones denied Ward on yet another penalty corner flick but a low drag flick from Christopher Griffiths gave England their third penalty corner goal. It was nearly 4-0 as Condon had a goal disallowed and then Jones denied Condon on a one-timer from close range.

England did find their fourth goal as Griffiths fed a perfectly weighted ball into the South African circle. A full sprawled Ward beautifully deflected the ball up and over Jones to make it 4-0 for England.

Despite the England scoring showcase, South Africa are never to be counted out. A superb 3D skill performance on the baseline from Bradley Sherwood gave South Africa a penalty corner late in the fourth. Ace flicker Matthew Guise-Brown unleashed a deceptive shot down the middle to break James Mazarelo’s chance at a shutout. South Africa capitalized on the momentum shift when Keenan Horne weathered a tough challenge from English defender Timothy Nurse and blasted a shot far post to give the visitors their second goal. A yellow card to Sherwood in the 55th minute made it tough for South Africa to salvage the full comeback.

Following the 4-2 win, Player of the Match Chris Griffiths said: ‘It was a fairly good game, to be honest, off the back of last week. It was nice building momentum and I thought we controlled the game really well. Kind of a bit disappointed to let two goals in at the end but that’s credit to South Africa and how they came back into the game but overall really happy with the performance.’

South African captain Keenan Horne added: ‘I think England’s a well-built team. I think we just took a little bit too long to get into the game. We can take a lot from that last quarter and we defended really well in the second half.’

The England women earned three points over Spain in a 3-1 victory at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre. England proved to be in control through the majority of the game but Spain did have several quality chances to get back in to it. Giselle Ansley opened the scoring in the 22nd minute off a low penalty corner flick that deflected in off the foot of Spain post player Xantal Gine.

Before half time England doubled their lead. A well-worked free hit allowed a quick release from Flora Peel into the circle. The ball found the stick of Holly Hunt, who was jumped on by the Spanish defence, but fantastic advantage from Scottish umpire Sarah Wilson allowed play to continue. A calm, cool Lily Owsley drew around the sliding pads of Jana Martínez to make it 2-0 for England.

Spain’s Xantal Gine blasted a shot off a penalty corner in the 41th minute to bring Spain within one. It was a sigh of relief for coach Adrian Lock who had watched his team fall short on earlier penalty corners. Despite their hard work Spain couldn’t keep England at bay for long and five minutes later Grace Balsdon released a penalty corner flick that went off the toe of keeper Melanie Garcia to make it 3-1.

Spain nearly closed the lead when a ball from Beatriz Perez into the English circle popped up for Begoña Garcia to deflect down. The ball rolled past the open goal line for Florencia Amundson, who was tangled amongst two defenders, and couldn’t put it in. With Spain pulling their keeper in the final moments, Sophie Hamilton shot one wide of the empty cage but the damage had already been done. England celebrated the three points and the recovery after a pair of losses to China a week ago at the same venue.  

Following the match the exciting Flora Peel was named Player of the Match and commented: ‘I think we were really happy, to be honest. To get player of the game is great but overall we just needed a really big team performance off the back of last weekend. Today I thought we were just really consistent and we’ve got things to work on but we are happy with what we did out there today. We know how (Spain) like to play – they like to play down the middle. They’re very skilful and we tried to force them into something they’re not comfortable doing.’

Spain’s Maria Lopez added about her side: ‘We feel bad. We must learn about our mistakes and improve for tomorrow’s game. I think we were a little bit irregular in the game so we need to improve to be skilled at our system and be prepared for tomorrow.’

It was a game of penalty corner finishes as Belgium buried two in the game to France’s one to take the first three points of the double-header weekend.

It was a level opening quarter as both teams had to weather periods of frantic defence. Belgium did have a lot of territory and possession but were unable to really test French keeper Arthur Thieffry. France’s Etienne Tynevez had the most quality attempt at goal but his back-hand was challenged well by a sliding Loic van Doren, in goal for Belgium.

Tom Boon thought he might be the one to provide the opening goal heroics but he didn’t get his usual power behind the shot and the out-stretched toe of Thieffry steered the ball wide. France’s stingy defence was put to work and it was not until the 24th minute that Belgium broke the deadlock. A penalty corner finish from Tanguy Cosyns flew off the glove of Thieffry and under the crossbar to make it 1-0 for Belgium heading into halftime.

Belgium found their game-winner on a penalty corner rebound. Tom Boon’s flick went straight down the pipe and the rebound came back to the top. Cedric Charlier made no mistake burying a rocket back-hander to make it 2-0. France were able to find a consolation goal in the final seconds of the game as Victor Charlet made his penalty corner drag look easy, finding the bottom corner glove side and breaking van Doren’s shutout.

Tanguy Cosyns was named Player of the Match and commented after the game: ‘I think we didn’t play our best game but still happy with the points because it’s needed for us to stay up in the league and to be in Top 4. We are happy with the points but not really happy with the performance today but still improving from last week.’

France coach Frédéric Soyez: ‘I’m very happy with the performance of the team today. We played a very good game and I’m happy with that. It’s frustrating because we had more or less the control of the game. We have to keep working and trying to be better tomorrow.’

Result: Women
Netherlands 1, Argentina 1 (4-2 Shootout)
Player of the Match: Xan de Waard (The Netherlands)

England 3, Spain 1
Player of the Match: Flora Peel (England)

England 4, South Africa 2
Player of the Match: Christopher Griffiths (England)

Belgium 2, France 1
Player of the Match: Tanguy Cosyns (Belgium)