FIH Pro League: Grand Final qualification joy for Netherlands

FIH Pro League: Grand Final qualification joy for Netherlands
FIH Pro League: Grand Final qualification joy for Netherlands

FIH Pro League: Grand Final qualification joy for Netherlands

The Netherlands women have become the second team to book its ticket to the FIH Pro League Grand Final after it sealed a top four finish in the FIH Pro League on a dramatic day that saw six action packed matches being played in three European cities.

The reigning women’s world champion defeated Belgium for the second time in two days to secure  its  eleventh win in twelve matches, beating the Red Panthers 2-0 in front of a big crowd in s’Hertogenbosch. That result was enough for the Oranje to join Argentina in the showpiece Grand Final competition that  takes place in Amstelveen at the end of the month, whilst also confirming berth in the FIH Olympic qualifiers that will be played later this year. The Netherlands currently sit at top of the standings, with Argentina in second and Australia – who today recorded a fine 4-2 away victory over Great Britain to take a step closer to the Grand Final – in third position. It was also an excellent day for Germany’s women, who strengthened its hold on fourth place with a 2-1 win over New Zealand in Krefeld.

Three matches of great significance took place in the men’s competition, with the Netherlands men stealing the headlines for the second day in a row courtesy of another brilliant victory over world champions Belgium. The Dutch recorded a 4-3 triumph in s’Hertogenbosch, adding tthree more point s to those claimed in yesterday’s 4-0 away win over the Red Lions in Antwerp. Belgium sit second in the standings, with the Netherlands occupying third place. Table-toppers Australia missed out on a bonus point when they fell to a shoot-out defeat against Great Britain in London, while Germany – who currently sit fifth in the standings  – grabbed a bonus point by winning a shoot-out against New Zealand in Krefeld to keep alive their Grand Final ambitions.

Germany v New Zealand (women & men) – Crefelder Hockey und Tennis Club, Krefeld (GER)

The women’s teams were the first to take to the field in Krefeld, with Germany’s Die Danas (FIH World Ranking: 5) scoring twice in the final quarter to snatch a 2-1 victory over the Black Sticks (WR:6) to keep their prospects of a top four finish very much on track. New Zealand opened the scoring in the eighth minute when Germany’s Anne Schröder lost possession at the back, with Kirsten Pearce ruthlessly punishing the error with a cool lifted finish over goalkeeper Julia Sonntag. It was a lead the Black Sticks held until the final quarter, with Pia Maertens levelling the scores before Player of the Match Cecile Pieper’s deflected effort flew into the roof of the New Zealand net to give the home side victory.

“I thought it was a really good team effort”, said Pieper after the match. “I thought we were sleeping in the first quarter, but then we got into our structure and started playing really well. In the end we were just pushing and pushing, as we did against GB [on Friday]. We knew we could turn the game and had the patience and the skills to do it.”

In the men’s match, the visiting New Zealanders (WR:8) opened up a 2-0 lead against Germany (WR:6) thanks to terrific field goals from Stephen Jenness and Nick Woods before Timm Herzbruch reduced the deficit at 2-1 ahead of half time. Timur Oruz pulled Die Honamas level just 40 seconds after half time, but Sam Lane’s speculative backhand strike from a tight angle gave the Black Sticks a 3-2 lead going into the final quarter. Germany’s Tom Grambusch netted a late penalty corner to force a shoot-out before brother Mats Grambusch scored the decisive effort in the one-on-ones to take the shoot-out 4-3 and earn a valuable bonus point for the hosts.

Germany’s Timm Herzbruch, who was named Player of the Match, said: “It was a very tough match, going down 0-2 but we got it to 2-2 which was fine, we were playing well and creating chances. We wanted to win the match in regular time, but of course we are happy with the shoot-out win.”

Netherlands v Belgium (women & men) – HC Den Bosch, s-Hertogenbosch (NED)

After their double header in Antwerp on Saturday, the national teams of the Netherlands and Belgium went head to head on Dutch soil with a huge crowd flocking to HC Den Bosch to witness the action. The Netherlands women (WR:1), 2-1 winners against the Red Panthers (WR:13) in Antwerp, dominated the first half but could not find a breakthrough against the Belgians who were outstanding in defence. In the third quarter Belgium goalkeeper Elena Sotgiu brilliantly saved Caia van Maasakker’s penalty stroke before Player of the Match Frederique Matla – who plays her club hockey at Den Bosch – finally broke the deadlock with a low penalty corner effort. Despite some late chances for the visitors, it was Van Maasakker who had the final say with a late penalty corner to give the Netherlands a 2-0 win and send the Netherlands to the FIH Pro League Grand Final.

Speaking after the match, Frederique Matla said: “I loved all the crowd, it is a very full house. It is awesome to play on this field again, which is an extra bonus for me, but we are really happy with the three points today, which is the most important thing.”

The Netherlands men (WR:3) matched their female compatriots by completing a weekend double over Belgium (WR:1), with the hosts emerging 4-3 winner against the world champions in a thrilling encounter. Sebastien Dockier and Tom Boon gave the Red Lions a 2-0 lead before the Dutch dragged themselves level at half time thanks to strikes from Mirco Pruijser and Jip Janssen. The Dutch established a 4-2 advantage thanks to Mink van der Weerden’s penalty corner and a stunning backhand strike from Jeroen Hertzberger, with Tom Boon reducing the deficit before the Dutch put in a remarkable defensive display to claim a second win in two days against the world’s top ranked team.

Netherlands captain Billy Bakker, who was named Player of the Match, said: “It was a really tough game. Back to back against Belgium on Saturday and Sunday, that is always really tough. It is a [result earned by] fighting hard for each other, being a team and being strong in defence. For the ranking it is really great that we got six points this weekend.”

Great Britain v Australia (men & women) – Lee Valley Hockey & Tennis Centre, London (ENG) 

A sell-out crowd in London was treated to two very entertaining clashes between Great Britain and Australia, with the men’s teams trading blows from the very start of their contest. Excellent deflections from Great Britain’s Zach Wallace of Great Britain (WR:7) and Jake Harvie of Australia (WR:2) saw the two teams finish the first quarter with the score at 1-1, before Chris Griffiths put hosts in the lead five minutes before half time. Tim Brand restored parity at 2-2 shortly after the break in what proved to be the final goal of the game, giving a point to each team ahead of a shoot-out for the bonus point. To the delight of the home crowd, it was the home side who took the additional point by winning the shoot-out 4-3 thanks largely to goalkeeper George Pinner, who made two saves.

Great Britain’s Phil Roper said: “It was always going to be really tough playing against the Aussies, they always bring a lot of energy and intent and thankfully we matched them for the majority of the game. We are always coming out here to win, but when you draw you have to refocus to go into the shoot-out believing you can win it, so we’re pretty happy with the result today.”

Following a goal-less opening quarter in the women’s match, Australia scored twice in the eighteenth minute thanks to a Maddy Fitzpatrick penalty corner and a well taken field goal from Brooke Peris before Jane Claxton compounded British misery with a deflected effort to make it 3-0 to the Hockeyroos at half time. Mariah Williams made it 4-0 with a glorious backhand strike into the roof of the British goal before Hollie Pearne-Webb and Tessa Howard found the target either side of the third quarter break to give the hosts a fighting chance. However, the Australians were deserving winners of this contest and remain very much in the driving seat for a place in the FIH Pro League Grand Final.

Speaking after the match, Australia’s Maddy Fitzpatrick said: “GB really came out in that second half, and I think we were pretty lucky to score those early goals. All in all I think it was a really great match for both teams.

Result: Women’s Match 58
Germany 2, New Zealand 1
Player of the Match: Cecile Pieper (GER)

Result: Men’s Match 41
Germany 3, New Zealand 3 (4-3 after shoot-out)
Player of the Match: Timm Herzbruch (GER)

Result: Women’s Match 59
Netherlands 2, Belgium 0
Player of the Match: Frederique Matla (NED)

Result: Men’s Match 42
Netherlands 4, Belgium 3
Player of the Match: Billy Bakker (NED)

Result: Men’s Match 43
Great Britain 2, Australia 2 (4-3 after shoot-out)
Player of the Match: Sam Ward (GBR)

Result: Women’s Match 60
Great Britain 2, Australia 4
Player of the Match: Renee Taylor (AUS)