It was a day of drama, late goals, sublime skills, mesmerising teamwork and magnificent individual performances. As the FIH Hockey Pro League nears its final stages, the hockey action on offer has reached extraordinary levels. Whether it is the sheer power of a Stephanie vanden Borre penalty corner, the precision of a Xan de Waard pass or the teamwork that led to the India men's opening goal, the choice of best moments runs long following this weekend of hockey.
Spain kicked things off by overcoming a spirited and resolute USA team. Netherlands women looked ominously good as they outplayed Germany, while Germany men turned the tables on the Netherlands when they grabbed the momentum and all three points after a sparkling second half performance.
Belgium men and women both found success against India, albeit in very different ways. Belgium Red Panthers seemed to hit a new gear as they strode to a comprehensive 5-0 victory. The men had to battle to the final seconds of a game that was full of everything that is good about hockey – pace, skill, teamwork and the courage to take risks.
Spain vs USA (women) – Sportcentrum Wilrijkse Plein-Antwerp (BEL)
It was all about Spain in the opening quarter of the match between the Red Sticks and the USA. Spain held two thirds of the possession and hammered repeatedly at the USA defensive circle. The USA defence however, were resolute in the face of the waves of pressure and there was a sense of growng frustration in the Spanish ranks.
Spain's woes increased when the USA burst out of the stranglehold press that the Red Sticks had on them. They raced to the other end of the field and drew a foul. Erin Matson showed her composure as she stepped up to send the penalty stroke past Melanie Garcia to put her team ahead.
Spain answered in the 36th minute when Sara Barrios scored her first goal for the senior team. The forward was on hand to pounce on a loose ball and play it over USA's keeper Jenny Rizzo.
USA again took the lead against the pattern of play when a rare counterattack drew a foul in the Spanish circle. Ashley Hoffman sent the ensuing penalty corner into the Red Sticks goal.
With 29 shots to the USA's three and 43 circle penetrations to their opponents eight, Spain knew they had to somehow rescue this match. And it was Begona Garcia who came to the rescue with two almost identical goals from penalty corner melees. The multi-capped midfielder was on hand to pick up the rebound on two consecutive penalty corner routines, breaking the USA's hearts in the process as they had been just three minutes from a first Pro League win this season. For Spain, this was a first win over USA since 2008
Player of the Match, Georgina Oliva (ESP) said: 'It was a tough game. They are bvery physical. We were losing so we had to focus and keep fighting. Now we are happy but it was tough. Small detials in the second half made the difference. We had the same situations in the first half but we dealt with them better in the second half.'
This match marks the end of Spain's Pro League adventures and, on current standings, they are in fourth place in the league. USA remain in ninth position.
Germany vs Netherlands (women) – Stadion Am Pfeilshof, Hamburg (GER)
The Netherlands looked imperious in the opening half of their second match of the weekend against Germany. The opening goal was scored in the 10th minute by Freeke Moes. It was created by Laurien Leurink who slipped a lovely pass through the German defence to Moes who then lifted it past Julia Sonntag into the goal.
The second goal was scored by Xan de Waard who was in the perfect position to deflect the ball from Sanne Koolen into the goal from a penalty corner.
Germany found their attacking verve in short waves of play but there was nothing consistent in their play and the Netherlands defence didn't look too troubled by their efforts. Charlotte Stapenhorst, Anne Schröder and Pia Maertens all looked capable of changing things for the home nation but, despite good build-up play, the final touch was missing.
Germany finally found a break through in the 35th minute when Sara Strauss was fouled on route to goal. Captain Sonja Zimmermann stepped up to send the penalty stroke past Josine Koning. That goal gave the home team a boost and a few minutes later Koning was called on to make a save from a fantastic upright reverse stick shot from Pauline Heinz.
Netherlands put a cushion between themselves and Germany when Yibbi Jansen stepped up to send home a penalty stroke after a foul on Albers as the striker made her way goalwards. That goal has put Jansen at the top of the FIH Pro League scoring table, ahead of Agustina Gorzelany of Argentina.
This win for the Dutch means they have not been beaten by Germany since 2008, a run of 28 games.
Player of the Match Laurien Leurink (NED) said: 'I think we started well but the third and fourth quarter were not so good. We made some good progression towards the World Cup. In the process of where we are, I am really proud of the team.
The result means Netherlands are second in the FIH Pro League at present, behind champions Argentina and seven points ahead of India. Germany remain in sixth place.
Belgium vs India (women)- Sportcentrum Wilrijkse Plein-Antwerp (BEL)
Belgium got off to a blistering start when Abi Raye drove the ball around the baseline and slipped it to Barbara Nelen. It was Nelen who opening the scoring the previosu day in the third minute; today she was on the score-sheet a minute earlier.
Belgium were able to extend their lead two minutes later when Charlotte Engelbert ran the ball into the circle, dodging and weaving around the defence before sending home a beautiful reverse stick shot that evaded Savita's outstretched boot.
Despite being hit so hard in the opening few minutes, India looked bright and were working hard to get back into the game. That determination took a big blow in the second quarter however when Belgium scored twice more to double their lead to 4-0.
First Abi Raye was able to pounce onto a loose ball after her team had peppered Devi Kharibam – who had replaced savita in the India goal – and the India defence with shots. The final rebound dropped to Raye and she finished with aplomb. The fourth goal was a typically direct and powerful drag flick from Stephanie vanden Borre.
The fifth goal was a sparkling effort from Ambre Ballenghien. The ball was fired into the circle and the striker connected with it even as she was falling backwards.
Player of the Match, Stephanie Vanden Borre: 'We had a really good start. We knew we had to make our chances count and we did. Yesterday I made a big defensive error but today we kept the 'nil', so that was good too.'
India Head Coach Janneke Schopman said: 'We are not too worried about these results, the World Cup is our goal and we use these games to see what is working and what is not. We are also looking at our selection as we haven't played our strongest line-up yet.'
Germany vs Netherlands (men) – Stadion Am Pfeilshof, Hamburg (GER)
This was a game of shifting momentums as first Netherlands and then Germany took control of the tempo of the match. Netherlands got off to a dream start when Thierry Brinkman lifted the ball daintily into the circle for Koen Bijen to trap and then shoot past Niklas Garst. The first quarter and much of the second was then all about the Netherlands as they burst into the sort of pace and skill levels that have become synonymous with the team in this Pro League campaign.
Head Coach Jeroen Delmee and his team will rue, however, the fact that they couldn't find a way to extend their lead during this period because suddenly it all changed.
A beautifully weighted ball by Teo Hinrichs found full-back Moritz Ludwig way out of position in the Netherlands circle. Ludwig's goal sparked a change in momentum and Germany began to play with all the flowing energy that had been the preserve of the Dutch until that moment.
Five minutes later and Marco Miltkau was on the score-sheet as he deflected a penalty corner strike by Gonzalo Peillat. This was no accidental deflection, the move had all the hallmarks of time on the training field.
The third goal came from a mess-up of a penalty corner. Somehow Niklas Bosserhoff turned error to success as he slammed the ball down the centre of the goal to extend Germany's lead.
The fourth and final goal came from a lovely pass from Christopher Ruhr. The forward played the ball off his back foot into the Netherlands' circle and Constatin Staib was on hand to pick and shoot.
Player of the Match Teo Hinrichs (GER) said: 'I get energy from the team. We played well yesterday but didn't get the result, but today we pushed from minute 1 to minute 60. We have had a few tough weeks but now it is time to have a few weeks break, think about other things and come back strong.'
The result means Netherlands are still in pole position at the top of the FIH Pro League, two points ahead of India. At the end of their campaign, Germany remain in fourth with only England able to ctach them.
Belgium vs India (men)- Sportcentrum Wilrijkse Plein-Antwerp (BEL)
Fascinating, enthralling, highly competitive, team goals, moments of individual brilliance, the two FIH Pro League matches between Belgium and India had everything. To the very last minute of the second match, this encounter was barely able to separate the teams.
This wasn't a match you could ever take your eye from as the action flew from end-to-end. The first goal came in the 25th minute as India put on a showcase of sublime team work as the ball went smoothly from Varun to Harman to Vivek to Lalit to Sukhit and finally to Abishek, who was able to tap home.
Belgium's answer came as Cedric Charlier stole the ball, relaeased Arhtur de Sloover whose pass found Nicholas de Kerpel. The tall forward squeezed the ball through a narrow gap to bring the scores level.
Alexander Hendrickx was on the score sheet twice, first from a penalty corner that was scored through his trade mark powerful and accurate shot. It was Hendrickx who finally put to bed in the final minute when he put a penalty stroke past PR Sreejesh. The Indian keeper was just a tantalising few inches from saving it. With just a few seconds on the clock, this was the goal that sealed the match.
That said, India still didn't give up. With just 37 seconds left on the clock, Mandeep found a way through the Belgium defence and made it 3-2. With milli-seconds left on the clock, Vivek nearly pulled off a miracle comeback as his shot flew over Vincent Vanasch's goal.
Player of the Match Arthur de Sloover said: 'The whole defence did well today. India is one of the best countries in the world and we did a good job to beat them. Yesterday and today, it was the details that matter. We did well up front and kept it tight at the back. I tried to replace Arthur van Doren as best as I could.'
The result menas that Belgium join Netherlands on 31 points at the top of the Pro League with India on 29 points. Netherlands have played two fewer games.
FIH Hockey Pro League action continues on Saturday 18 June with the final positions becoming ever clearer. The action in the women's FIH Pro League begins in Rotterdam as China face USA at 10:30 CEST. India then face Argentina at 13:00 CEST, also at Rotterdam HC. It is then to Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre where England play host to Belgium at 14:00 CEST. There are two men's matches: at HC Rotterdam it is a table top clash between Netherlands and India, starting at 16:30 CEST. Then, at 17:30 CEST, England men play host to Belgium at Lee Valley.
To see the current men’s FIH Pro League Standings, click here.
To see the current women’s FIH Pro League Standings, click here.
FIH Pro League – 12 June 2022
Sportcentrum Wilrijkse Plein-Antwerp (BEL)
Result: Men’s Match 65
Belgium 3, India 2
Player of the Match: Arthur de Sloover (BEL)
Umpires: David Tomlinson (NZL), Coen van Bunge (NED) Caroline van de Leur (BEL)
Result: Men’s Match 64
Germany 4, Netherlands 1
Player of the Match: Teo Hinrichs (GER)
Umpires: Bruce Bale (ENG), Jakob Mejzlik (CZE), Ivona Makar (CRO - Video)
Result: Women’s Match 58
Spain 3, USA 2
Player of the Match: Georgina Oliva (ESP)
Umpires: Laurine Delforge (BEL), Liu Xiaoying (CHN), David Tomlinson (NZL -video)
Result: Women’s Match 59
Germany 1, Netherlands 3
Player of the Match: Laurien Leurink (NED)
Umpires: Celine Martin-Schmets (BEL), Ivona Makar (CRO), Jakub Mejzlik (CZE-video)
Result: Women's Match 60
Belgium 5, India 0
Player of the Match:
Umpires: Hannah Harrison (ENG) Liu Xiaoying (CHN) Michelle Meister (GER- video)