FIH Pro League: Spain, the Netherlands men and England women record wins while Chinese women get bonus 

On a day of pulsating hockey with four matches on schedule, England and the Netherlands teams enjoyed a mixed day while Spain recorded a convincing win against South Africa in the FIH Pro League on Saturday.

In yet another game, China earned a bonus point after its game against  Spain ended in a draw. 

Maddie Hinch celebrated  her 100 caps for England with a rare victory over the Netherlands while the men’s match saw three points go to Netherlands as the Oranje rushed to a 2-0 lead in the first quarter.

 Spain flew into a 3-0 lead against South Africa before the visiting side found its comfortable lead cut as South Africa found its groove. A 1-1 draw between Spain and China women belied a match played with energy and creativity but the keepers were the stars of the show, both during the match and at the subsequent shoot-out, which China edged. 

The Netherlands fielded a team with a number of inexperienced players in the first of two matches against England. The inexperience showed up as there were a number of occasions when the players failed to make their usual seamless connections.

England for its part, looked like a team growing in confidence both as individuals and as a squad. With players such as Sophie Hamilton, Fiona Crackles and Flora Peel running at the Dutch defence from midfield, and Elena Rayer and Lily Walker creating problems up front, there were definite signs that David Ralph’s squad was finding its feet ahead of the FIH Hockey Women’s World Cup in just a month’s time.

The first quarter was goalless. In the 20th minute, from a penalty corner, Giselle Ansley switched the ball to Anna Toman, who fired it home past Julia Remmerswaal in the Netherlands’ goal.

That lead was extended when Toman, who had an outstanding game, crossed the ball for Isabelle Petter to deflect into the goal.

The Dutch team had multiple chances to reduce the deficit. Felice Albers made a number of really incisive moves into the England circle but found Maddie Hinch in outstanding form and the keeper pulled off a number of good saves to keep her team in the lead.

Netherlands finally got a break through when Maxine Kersholt fired home an absolute rocket of a penalty corner to halve the deficit. This prompted a spate of Dutch attacking moves – in fact the team in orange got into the England circle 28 times but was unable to turn attacks into goals.

The result was sealed when Grace Balsdon held her nerve to fire a penalty stroke into the roof of the net. The penalty stroke was delayed as Head Coach Jamilon Mülders changed goalkeepers. Even the extra height of Alexandra Heerbaart couldn’t keep Balsdon’s shot from the net.

The result is the first time England has beaten the Netherlands since 2003.

Player of the Match, Anna Toman (England) said: ‘It was a great experience on the Queen’s Jubilee weekend. They put a lot of pressure on us but we worked very hard in the circle and came away with the win. Our flyers (Izzy Petter & Fi Crackles) really protected us at penalty corners.

Maria Verschoor of the Netherlands said: ’We can be proud of what we did on the pitch, we put a lot of pressure and created a lot of chances. Tomorrow we need to make it count. We are enjoying this. We have a lot of youngsters so it was a different energy today.’

England men faced a Netherlands team that had eight changes from the team that beat Argentina in its previous two FIH Pro League fixtures. Back in were Thierry Brinkman, Jorrit Croon, Denis Warmerdam and Seve van Ass. 

For England, the return of creative forward Zach Wallace and the stalwart Phil Roper added new dimensions to the team that had moved up to fourth place in the league.

It was Netherlands who got off to a sparkling start when Dennis Warmerdam was able to fire the ball past Oliver Payne at close range after some tremendous stick control by Jorrit Croon. Croon received the rebound from a penalty corner, held onto the ball until there was space to twist and pass, and Warmerdam was there to make it 1-0.

The lead was doubled towards the end of the first quarter when captain Thierry Brinkman played a beautiful pass to Warmerdam. The tall forward made no mistake as he diverted it into the goal. 

The second quarter saw England begin to match the Dutch pass for pass in the midfield. However, in front of goal, the home team was unable to find a way past the Netherlands defence. Pirmin Blaak was in fine form and his defence was helped by the willingness of the Dutch midfield to come back and support in numbers.

A goalless third half again saw England go toe-to-toe with Netherlands in the midfield. Zach Wallace was looking dangerous at times, Matthew Ramshaw made some good runs towards the circle and Sam Ward forced Blaak to make a couple of saves but really these were meagre pickings.

The game was put beyond reach for England when Tjep Hoedemakers was able to crash the ball past Payne after a lovely pass from Brinkman split the England defence. 

Player of the Match Seve van Ass from Netherlands said: ‘I thought it was a tough game. It was hot and the pitch was a little bumpy. We struggled to get into rhythm in the first half. Also we have had a lot of games in a few games so we were pleased with the result. It was a better second half as we dominated the game more. England made it tough for us.’

The result means that the two teams swap places in the FIH Pro League as Netherlands move to fourth and England drop back to fifth.

Spain rushed into a three-nil lead with goals from captain Marc Miralles, Gerard Clapes and Jose Basterra. Miralles’ goal was a beautiful drag flick which shot past Gowan Jones in the South African goal. Clapes added to the score line with a well taken individual effort which had the South African defenders chasing shadows.

Basterra’s goal followed a series of flowing attacking moves by the Spanish team and was deserved by the Red Sticks for their persistence in the face of a resolute South Africa defence.

As is their wont, South Africa saved its goal scoring until later in the match. Jethro Eustice made it 3-1 with a well-taken penalty stroke after a foul on Rusten Abrahmas. Taine Paton made Spanish hearts flutter when he made it 3-2 with the first of two well-taken penalty corners. 

Borja Lacalle restored Spain’s cushion with another penalty corner strike to made it 4-2 and Alvaro Iglesias scored on the rebound after Jones saved the initial penalty corner drag flick from Xavier Gispert. Paton scored his second and, following a spate of corners at the end of the match, once again South Africa were left rueing what could have been had they started more sharply. 

Spain’s Alvaro Iglesias said: ‘It was a good performance in the first half and not so good in the second half, we made mistakes and conceded some goals. Tomorrow we will look to overcome those mistakes and be better.’

It was a closely fought match between Spain and China as two early goals – one apiece – was followed by three quarters where there were no goals but plenty of intriguing action.

Gu Bingfeng opened the scoring in the second minute with a trademark drag flick penalty corner that flew past Ana Calva in the Spanish goal. 

Spain’s answer was immediate as Florencia Amundson was able to find a way through the China defence after some good build-up play by her team. An aerial into the China defensive quarter caused the defenders problems and Amundson was able to pounce.

The remainder of the match saw both teams create chances but the goalkeepers from both teams were in stunning form and there was no way through for either the enterprising Spanish attack or the speedy Chinese forwards. 

The bonus point was won by China after a tense shoot-out went to sudden death. The goal of the shoot-out was an audacious flick by Lucia Jimenez, which went over Lui PIng’s head and dropped into the goal.

Player of the match was China’s goalkeeper Lui Ping. She said: ‘Our team has the spirit of not giving up. We keep playing to the very end.’

Spain’s Maria Lopez said: ‘We played well and had a good game. But it was a pity we lost in the shoot-out. It is amazing to play in this stadium because it will be a great venue for the Women’s World Cup.’

Result: Women
England 3, Netherlands 1
Player of the Match: Anna Toman (ENG)

Spain 1, China 1  China win shoot-out 4-3
Player of the Match: Lui Ping (China)
England 0, Netherlands 3
Player of the Match: Seve van Ass (the Netherlands)
Spain 5, South Africa 2
Player of the Match: Alvaro Iglesias (Spain)