And so we come to the end of the third season of FIH Hockey Pro League action. The two leagues – men's and women's – began back in October in Belgium and ended eight months later with Argentina women and Netherlands men being crowned champions.
Harmanpreet Singh of India and Agustina Gorzelany of Argentina topped the goal scoring table and a worldwide audience was able to indulge in some simply sublime hockey that had the luxury of unfolding as a narrative over the course of the season.
Newcomers to the leagues were able to shine on the big stage; an opportunity grasped eagerly by France and South Africa men and India and Spain women. Just a glance at the tables will demonstrate how well those teams competed in their respective men's and women's leagues.
On the final day of action, eyes were on HC Den Bosch where the women's teams of China, USA, Belgium and Germany and the men's teams of Netherlands and Spain completed their campaigns
It was the Pia Maertens show in the final women's match of the FIH Pro league. The athlete was everywhere for Germany as she scored a first half hat trick, was involved in a fabulous fourth goal and saved a shot off the line. Earlier in the day Ambre Ballenghien and her Belgium team mates had once more put USA to the sword as they won for the second consecutive day.
In the final men's game, Netherlands put four goals past Spain to emphasise their championship status. Pirmin Blaak in the Dutch goal can take much of the credit for the victory as he was a virtual human wall between the Spanish attack force and the back of the goal.
United States v Belgium (women) – HC Den Bosch (NED)Belgium started the match with energy but found Kelsey Bing in the USA goal in tremendous form. When she was beaten her defenders were also showing the levels of resileince that the USA have become known for. Ashley Hoffman put in one particularly good save when she pulled the ball from over head height as it was on route to goal. The inevitable breakthrough came in the 25th minute when Ambre Ballenghien showed her skill and dexterity to change twist past her markers and slip the ball past Bing from close range.
China v Germany (women) - HC Den Bosch (NED)
Germany and China took to the field ready for a very different match to the previous day. Germany had a completely new look team as they fielded their Women's World Cup team. China were also ready for a last big test before the World Cup countdown begins.
It was Germany who took the lead. The quick movements of the attacking trio of Lena Micheel, Charlotte Stapenhorst and Pia Maertens put the China defence under a lot of early pressure and that was made to count just before the quarter time break. Pia Maertens both created and scored as she ran the ball along the baseline, slipped it back to Micheel before receiving the ball back and poking it past Liu Ping.
Pla Maertens continued to dominate proceedings as she scored the next two goals for Germany. The first of these was slightly fortuitous as she latched onto a strike from captain Nike Lorenz and just tipped the ball into the goal but the third was pure class. A long ball was played out of defence and Maertens picked it up just outside the China circle. Her first touch brought it under control, then she drove the ball into the circle and fired past Liu Ping to score a first half hattrick.
There were no goals in the third quarter. China had solidified their defence but they were unable to make many in-roads into the German circle. In fact, by the end of the match, China had only managed a handful of visits to the German circle and very few shots found their way onto the target.
The fourth quarter saw one more goal. Maertens was involved once more but the move started and ended with Cecile Pieper. She drove into the circle, passed to Maertens, who slipped it to Charlotte Stapenhorst. Stapenhorst shot but the final touch belonged to Pieper.
China continued to work hard to string attacks together but the side was visibly exhausted both physically and mentally.
Player of the Match Pia Maertens said: 'It is good time to play well but the whole team played well. The defence is something we can build on. In the offence, we can also improve there too. China defended very well but they didn't make many scoring opportunities.'
Spain v Netherlands (men) - HC Den Bosch (NED)
The first 15 minutes saw Spain win five penalty corners but fail to convert any of them. The Netherlands had few shooting chances but the opening goal was created through sheer patience. Steijn van Heijningen was able to steal the ball in the Spanish defensive quarter and release it to Thijs van Dam. Van Dam made no mistake as he ran straight into the Spain circle and smashed the ball past Adrian Rafi.
The second goal was largely the work of Seve van Ass as the tall midfielder drove the ball along the Spanish baseline before slipping it to Tjep Hoedemakers. He, in turn, put the ball across the front of the goal and Jair van der Horst was on hand to punch it home. The third goal was a spectacular shot from Floris Wortelboer. He picked up the ball wide in the Spanish circle, brought it onto his open stick and then smashed it past Rafi.
At the other end of the field, Pirmin Blaak in the Dutch goal was having his own fabulous performance. Time and again he denied the Spanish attack with a series of athletic and reactionary saves.
In the second half it was much of the same. Spain continued to create chances only to discover Pirmin Blaak had erected a wall around his goal. Terrance Pieters was the recipient of a pass from Steijn van Heijningen, which left him in the perfect position to send the ball into the goal for a 4-0 lead.
With five minutes left, Blaak gave way to Derck Meijer. The new goalkeeper stood up well but a salvo of shots finally found a way through as Borja Lacalle picked up a rebound and smashed the ball into the goal to give Spain a consolation.
Player of the Match Pirmin Blaak said: 'I am happy to finish with this performance. We changed a few things which meant we didn't start well. We tried to improve but they created too many chances. It was a bad performance by us but after the past two years it was nice to perform in front of crowds again.'
FIH Hockey Pro League champions:
Hero FIH Hockey Pro League Top Scorers
Harmanpreet Singh (IND)
Agustina Gorzelany (ARG)
FIH Pro League – 26 June 2022
HC Den Bosch (NED)
Result: Women’s Match #73
USA 0, Belgium 3
Player of the Match: Ambre Ballenghien (BEL)
Umpires: Liu Xiaoying (CHN), Sophie Bocklemann (GER) Kelly Hudson (NZL -video)
Result: Women’s Match #74
China 0, Germany 4
Player of the Match: Pia Maertens (GER)
Umpires: Kelly Hudson (NZL), Emi Yamada (JPN), Marcin Grochal (POL - video)
Result: Men's Match #71
Netherlands 4, Spain 1
Player of the Match: Pirmin Blaak (NED)
Umpires: Marcin Grochal (POL), Ben Goentgen (GER), Emi Yamada (JPN - video)