FIH Pro League 2020: Mixed teams are common in hockey but an international men’s game umpired by a female and a male umpire and vice versa may be unprecedented.
Hockey history was made in Saturday’s games in Auckland, that became witness to the first top tier international hockey matches to have mixed gender umpires on the field of play. Australia’s Steve Rogers and Wanri Venter of South Africa took charge of the women’s clash between New Zealand and Belgium, while the men’s fixture was umpired by the Australian pairing of Adam Kearns and Aleisha Neumann.
Jip Janssen of the Netherlands continues to hawk headlines as he ended with yet another Man of the match award against Spain.
In Auckland, New Zealand’s women fell to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of visiting Belgium thanks largely to a sensational goalkeeping performance from Aisling D’Hooghe, who was named player of the match. Ambre Ballenghien’s speculative backhand strike from an acute angle put the Red Panthers ahead inside the opening three minutes before Gemma McCaw, playing her first international match since the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, equalised early in the second quarter. D’Hooghe made a string of wonderful saves to keep deny the Black Sticks from moving ahead before Anne-Sophie Weyns gave Belgium victory with a penalty corner slap-shot nine minutes from time. It was a second successive victory for Belgium on Kiwi soil, having also beaten the Black Sticks away from home in the 2019 edition of the FIH Hockey Pro League.
On her team’s impressive defensive performance, particularly from penalty corners, shot-stopper D’Hooghe said: “I think it is a big focus point for us. We did a good penalty corner defence last year, and we have to do the same this year. We will keep working on it.”
The Red Lions ensured it was a day of double Belgian celebration in Auckland, with the world number one ranked team storming to a 6-2 victory against the Black Sticks. The reigning World and European champions exploded out of the blocks, establishing a 3-0 lead inside the first ten minutes thanks to two superb Felix Denayer field goals and a penalty corner from Tom Boon. George Muir pulled a goal back early in the second quarter, but Sebastien Dockier and Nicolas de Kerpel took the score to 5-2 before Muir struck again to re-ignite New Zealand’s interest in the contest. However, a stunning high deflection from Player of the Match Boon eight minutes from time completed a resounding and deserved victory for Belgium.
“I think we are in a good way, we keep the ball for long moments and we see that when we do that teams struggle [against us], said Boon post-match. “All in all, we had a pretty good game.”
In Sydney, Australia men found themselves on the brink of defeat before eventually claiming two points from a possible three by winning a shoot-out against Great Britain after regular time finished with the scores locked at 4-4. The match – played in searing temperatures that triggered FIH’s inclement weather procedure to give players additional rest during the game – was a thriller, with Great Britain turning a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead thanks to strikes from Zach Wallace, Rupert Shipperley and Liam Ansell before late goals from Aran Zalewski and Trent Mitton sent the game into a shoot-out. Alan Forsyth was the only scorer for GB, with Jake Whetton, Flynn Ogilvie and Jake Harvie on target as the Kookaburras nicked the bonus point.
“It was pretty close in the end”, said Australia’s Lachlan Sharp, who was named Player of the Match. “We train for this every day. It’s pretty hot here at the moment, but luckily we were fit enough to come through in the end.”
Grace Stewart scored a dramatic late winner as Australia’s Hockeyroos defeated reigning Olympic champions Great Britain 2-1 in Sydney. GB – who like their men, were playing their first match in the 2020 FIH Hockey Pro League – took a 1-0 lead early in the second quarter thanks to Sarah Robertson’s field goal, with Australia needing just eight minutes to restore parity when Stephanie Kershaw found the back of the net. The hosts withstood intense pressure from the visitors in the third and fourth quarter, with Australia goalkeeper and Player of the Match Jocelyn Bartram producing numerous excellent blocks to keep the scores level. Australia emerged with all three points when Stewart clinically dispatch a backhand strike with just 12 seconds of the contest remaining.
Speaking after the match, Jocelyn Bartram said: “The girls played the full 60 minutes to be able to get the win at the end. I’m really proud of our defensive efforts today, particularly on PCs [penalty corners]. We couldn’t have done it without the girls running it down, so we are really excited to get the win today.”
It was another goal-fest in Valencia as Spain and the Netherlands played out a highly competitive 2-4 encounter, with the Dutch proving themselves more adept at turning pressure into goals.
The Spanish players couldn’t have given any more as they moved the ball rapidly during some beautiful build-up play but they could find no way through a staunch Dutch defence.
For their part, the Netherlands soaked up the rpessure and then hit the Red Sticks on the counter attack. Goals from player of the match Jip Janssen, Thierry Brinkman, Mink van der Werden and Bjorn Kellerman were enough to quell the Spanish attacking instincts. Spain struck back through Marc Miralles and, in the final minute of the game, Ricardo Sanchez.
The day was bitter and sweet for Spain’s Quico Cortes. The goalkeeper was playing his 300th game for his country and pulled off a strong of fabulous saves during the match.
Speaking after the game, Jip Janssen said: “It [the match]was very much like yesterday. Both teams played with a very high intensity. Our defending was very good and we were very fast with our counter-attacks.”
Miguel Delas, the defeated captain, said: “Today we have to be realistic. We didn’t play at our level and we made some mistakes. Holland were very efficient. To win at this level, we have to be at the top of our game.”
The result means the Netherlands move to second in the league table, one point behind European neighbours, Belgium. Spain sits in seventh position, ahead of Argentina, who are yet to play, and New Zealand.
FIH Hockey Pro League
Match Day 9 – Saturday 01 February 2020
North Harbour Hockey Stadium, Auckland (New Zealand)
Women’s result: New Zealand 1, Belgium 2 (Match 1 of 2)
Player of the Match: Aisling D’Hooghe (goalkeeper – Belgium)
Men’s result: New Zealand 2, Belgium 6 (Match 1 of 2)
Player of the Match: Tom Boon (Belgium)
Sydney Olympic Park (Australia)
Men’s result: Australia 4, Great Britain 4 – 3-1 After Shoot-Out (Match 1 of 2)
Player of the Match: Lachlan Sharp (Australia)
Women’s result: Australia 2, Great Britain 1 (Match 1 of 2)
Player of the Match: Jocelyn Bartram (goalkeeper – Australia)
Estadio Betero, Valencia (Spain)
Men’s result: Spain 2, Netherlands 4 (Match 2 of 2)
Player of the Match: Jip Janssen (The Netherlands)