The penultimate day of action in the FIH Pro League dealt up three matches that were all very different in nature. Belgium Red Panthers put a disappointing first half performance behind them to rack up a 5-0 win over USA, while China women continued to rebuild under their new leadership team as they enjoyed a comfortable victory over a very inexperienced German side. The intensity ramped up in HC Den Bosch when the new FIH Pro League champions Netherlands men and the unpredictable Spanish team treated the spectators to a display of pacy, intense, sometimes dazzling and sometimes chaotic hockey.
United States v Belgium (women) – HC Den Bosch (NED)Neither team really showed the level of performance of which they are capable in the opening quarter of this match. Belgium will be disappointed with their execution of their first few penalty corners, including one which simply passed by the attacking team at the top of the circle. Towards the end of the quarter USA had a period of pressure but they too were unable to make their penalty corners count.
China v Germany (women) - HC Den Bosch (NED)
Germany fielded a young and inexperienced team in this first of two matches against China, and the Asia team were able to take full advantage to earn another win and three points.
China capitalised on penalty corner opportunities, scoring two from three in the first quarter. First Li Hong was able to control a lifted ball from the German defender after Zhang Ying's initial shot. Hong was able to receive the ball and fire it home past Chiara Vischer in the German goal. The second goal was scored by Zhang Ying herself. The shot was sent between the goalkeeper and the post player to double China's lead.
A goalless third quarter saw China continue to control the pace of the game, but for all the changes in direction of movement and the switching of play there were very few shooting opportunities for either side.
The third goal for China was scored by Gu Bingfeng. Her penalty corner srag flick was high, fast and accurate. While the shot was impressive, it was the movement that led to the award of the penalty corner that really caught the eye. The ball was played high out of defence with a beautiful aerial. The ball was received in the German circle by Zhang Xindan who drew the foul that led to the goal.
Player of the Match Cui Qiuxia (CHN) said: 'We are happy we got three points. The first quarter we started slowly but after that we played much better. We are looking forward to the World Cup. We need to focus if we are to get another winning result tomorrow.'
Spain v Netherlands (men) - HC Den Bosch (NED)
Netherlands got off to a blistering start against Spain in their penultimate match of the FIH Pro League season.
In a manner you would expect of the champions, the men in orange hit the ground at top speed and Thierry Brinkman was perfectly positioned to open the scoring from close range in the fourth minute. The lead was doubled a few minutes later when a beautiful cross field aerial was received by Floris Wortelboer on the edge of the Spanish circle. He played the ball to Jelle Galema who slotted it past Mario Garin in the Spanish goal.
Spain fought back and it was a clever and audacious goal that opened their account. Alvaro Inglesias dribbled the ball along the Netherlands' baseline before shaping up to pass it back. As the defence and goalkeeper all fell for the feint, he was able to squeeze the ball home.
Immediately after the break, Spain were able to benefit from a player advantage. Laars Balk received a green card and Spain instantly went on the attack. Although Maurits Visser in the Netherlands' goal was able to stop the first wave of Spanish attack, he could do nothing about the crisply taken shot from the top of the circle by Ignacio Rodriguez.
The final moments of the second quarter saw Netherlands quickly regain the lead. A series of quick passes saw Terrance Pieters in a great position in the circle from where he was able to lift the ball home.
The third quarter saw Netherlands playing some beautifully controlled hockey. The team in orange would run the ball into the Spanish circle on one side, realise there was no way through and so re-cycle and start again. That patience yielded two penalty corners but Spain dealt with the chances well.
There were no goal in the third quarter but both sides had their moments and, with 15 minutes to go, this looked like a match with more goals in it.
Netherlands extended their lead to 4-2 in the 53rd minute when Jonas de Geus was able to deflect the ball into the goal with a well-worked penalty corner routine. The initial ball in was played by Jip Jansen.
Spain, as is their way, battled to the end but the Netherlands are in superb form right now and were not likely to let the lead slip with just a few minutes of play left.
Player of the Match, Jelle Galema (NED) said: 'That was really good. It is difficult to come back after a celebration (after winning the Pro League last week) but we worked really hard and you saw 18 guys running like hell. For me that was a special goal because I have had two operations and it has been difficult and sometimes painful. Today I was back with my family and friends supporting me from thr stands.'
The FIH Pro League action continues on Sunday 26 June in the final day of FIH Pro League action for this season. USA and Belgium women will look to finish their season with a win at 11:00 (CEST); China and Germany wrap up the women's competition before Netherlands and Spain sign off on the men's competition at 16:00 CEST.
FIH Pro League – 25 June 2022
HC Den Bosch (NED)
Result: Women’s Match #71
USA 0, Belgium
Player of the Match: Louise Versavel (BEL)
Umpires: Liu Xiaoying (CHN), Sophie Bocklemann (GER) Emi Yamada (JPN -video)
Result: Women’s Match #72
China 3, Germany 0
Player of the Match: Cui Qixuia (CHN)
Umpires: Kelly Hudson (NZL), Emi Yamada (JPN), Marcin Grochal (POL - video)
Result: Men's Match #71
Netherlands 4, Spain 3
Player of the Match: Jelle Galema (NED)
Umpires: Marcin Grochal (POL), Ben Goentgen (GER), Kelly Hudson (NZL - video)