FIH Pro League: The Netherlands, Spain end weekend engagements with a “double” each

Both the Netherlands could not have asked for a better finish to their this week’s engagements in the FIH Pro League. Both won their respective men and women matches to continue their progress upwards in the prestigious league.

Netherlands women reversed the results of the previous day when they put on a competent performance to beat England 2-0. The men’s match featuring the same two nations was a thrilling nine goal encounter between two teams who only seemed to play in one gear – top speed. Netherlands scored six goals to England’s three but both teams played inventive and skilful hockey in a real showcase for the sport. 

In Terrassa, soon to be the scene of the FIH Hockey Women’s World Cup, Spain men put on a dominant show against South Africa and that match was followed by an equally impressive win for the Spanish women’s side over China.

The Netherlands arrived at Lee Valley determined not to allow England to repeat its winning ways from the previous day. There was an energy and creativity among the Netherlands players that had been missing 24 hours earlier. For its part, England had spoken before the match about the need to follow one good performance with another. 

Things looked good for England in the opening 10 minutes. Elena Rayer showed her pace and vision when she latched onto a misplaced Dutch pass, sprinted away from the last defender Sabine Plonissen and struck the ball past Julia Remmerswaal in the Netherlands goal. 

The Dutch came back strongly after this and Felice Albers in particular was creating all sorts of problems with her pace. The breakthrough was inevitable as Maddie Hinch was called on time and again to make some really world class saves. It was an Ireen van dem Assem penalty corner that finally found a way past the England goalkeeper. Again, it was Albers who made the run that won the corner and van dem Assem made no mistake.

Just four minutes later and Netherlands scored again, this time van dem Assem slipped the ball to the injector Tessa Clasener, who coolly lifted the ball over the diving Hinch.

Maria Verschoor thought she had added to the score line but a smart referral by Hollie Pearne-Webb had the goal overturned.

England had one more chance to equalise when Hannah Martin won a penalty corner after a smart darting move into the circle but the ensuing penalty corner was well dealt with by the Dutch defence. 

Player of the Match, Felice Albers (the Netherlands) said: ‘We wanted to win today and we played better than yesterday. In the second half we got penalty corners and we scored from them. We will go on to prepare for our matches against Germany.’

The result moves Netherlands to second spot in the FIH Pro League behind Argentina. England drop to sixth position.

A goal from Derck de Vilder in the opening 30 seconds of the game put the Netherlands firmly in the driving seat as England was then left chasing the game from the off. The visitors should really have pushed on from there but England rallied and created its own chances, including a spate of penalty corners in the latter stages of the quarter. Nick Bandurak and Chris Griffith had the best chances for England and Dennis Warmerdam was unlucky not to add to his weekend’s tally.

If de Vilder’s first goal had taken England aback by the suddenness of the shot, the second goal was sheer brilliance. An initial pass from Thierry Brinkman and de Vilder got hold of the ball, ran it into the circle and smashed it unerringly past Oliver Payne in the England goal.

Tjep Hoedemakers scored the third Dutch goal. Confusion among the England defenders allowed the tall Dutch man to burst through the centre of the pitch and shoot through Payne’s legs.

Lovely elimination skills from Peter Scott in the midfield allowed the England player to find space and pass the ball to Nick Bandurak. The striker steadied himself and then shot past Maurits Visser in the Netherlands goal.

The second half saw England reduce the deficit further when Phil Roper’s penalty corner shot rebounded and Stuart Rushmere was able to flick the ball past Visser. That goal was answered by a goal from the Netherlands of sheer beauty. Jorrit Croon sent a long aerial into the England circle and Tjep Hoedemakers hit the ball on the volley into the England goal.

Netherlands fifth goal was tame by comparison. Jair van der Horst collected a pass at the top of the circle, turned to create space and shot into the corner of Payne’s goal. 

England responded quickly when Stuart Rushmere scored his second senior goal and second goal in this match. he picked up the ball at the top of the circle, dribbled around the edge of the circle and fired home. Zak Jones, the England Head Coach, removed the goalkeeper and went for broke. 

Despite some pressure by England in the final minutes, it was the Netherlands who scored the ninth goal of the match. With the majority of players looking as if they were on their knees after this frenetic match, Terrance Pieters sent a ball into the path of Dennis Warmerdam who somehow mustered the energy to sprint into the circle and fire into the empty net. 

That was the final action of a game in which England played well but was unable to match a Netherlands side of skill, speed and inventiveness.

Player of the Match Jorrit Croon said: ‘That was a really tough game but so glad we have the six points. I am proud of the guys because we have had four really tough games [against Argentina and England]. There was a lot of pace and a lot of running. Fatigue definitely set in, that is why I sent the aerial [that led to the fourth Dutch goal], I had run out of legs. We scored good goals today but we must improve our defending.’

The result means Netherlands move to the top of the FIH Pro League. England are in fifth position.

It was maximum points for Spain as they put in a solid performance to record a second victory against South Africa. The Red Sticks had been sharp in front of goal in their previous match but had also conceded goals. Head Coach Max Caldas would have been happier with his team’s defensive performance in this game.

South Africa were the better team in the opening encounters. Its fast and creative style of play caused the Spanish defence some problems early in the game. However, Spain has a resolute defence and gradually the home team started to control the tempo of the game. Jose Basterra opened the scoring in the 13th minute, his goal the result of a quick counter-attack by the Red Sticks after a South Africa move was broken down in midfield. 

The lead was doubled in the 22nd minute when a flick at goal from Xavier Gispert was picked up by Marc Recasens, who buried the ball into the back of the net.

The third quarter again saw South Africa starting with a high tempo to its play, but Spain was once more able to take the sting from the attack. The match was put beyond doubt in the 48th minute when Eduardo Ignacio-Simo pounced on the ball after it was mis-handled by South Africa. The Spanish midfielder made no mistake as he sent it home past Siyavuya Nolutshungu in the South African goal.

Spain got off to a flying start in its second encounter with China. Its two first half goals both came from penalty corners, following some good possessive play. Xantal Gine sent home a fierce penalty corner in the seventh minute and that was followed just before the quarter time whistle by another well-taken penalty corner which was deflected into the goal by Maialen Garcia.

China had a chance to reduce the deficit on the cusp of half-time when it was awarded a penalty stroke but Maria Tello in the Spanish goal read the situation well and saved Gu Bingfeng’s effort with an athletic dive to her right.

The second half saw Spain extend its lead. First Xantal Gine was on hand to touch home a cross from Begona Garcia and then Georgina Oliva capped a fine performance with a calmly taken penalty stroke.

Player of the Match Georgina Oliva said: ‘We are very happy because we learnt a lot from yesterday and we had a plan. We stuck to our plan. In our match preparations we concentrated on the small details and getting those right. Our defence stopped the circle penetrations.’

The results mean that Spain are now fifth in the FIH Hockey Pro League, with China in eighth place.