Hosts Belgium will face Germany in Sunday’s Eurohockey Championships Final after a dominant performance saw off England by three goals to nil in tonight’s semi final.
Goals from Thomas Briels, Jerome Truyens and Florent Van Aubel were enough to sink a spirited display from Bobby Crutchley’s side and give the Red Lions their first win over England in this competition since 1970.
Belgium’s pace and trickery going forward was causing England problems from the first whistle. In the opening minutes, the ball popped up off goalkeeper George Pinner’s pads but the England No.1 reacted well, juggling the ball on his glove before clearing the danger. Pinner was called upon again almost immediately after to cut out a dangerous cross with Jerome Dekeyser sliding in behind him at the back post.
England forced the first penalty corner of the match after a mix up between Vincent Vanasch and Elliot Van Strydonck but Tom Carson was unable to fire off his drag flick and Alastair Brogdon’s follow up shot was blocked.
Belgium were still causing England problems with Florent Van Aubel and Thomas Briels showcasing their outrageous 3D skills and giving the England defenders a real headache.
England, however were growing into the game and Brogdon along with Nick Catlin, both of whom spent last season playing club hockey in Belgium, began to push the home side’s defence back with a series of threatening breaks.
On 19 minutes, Belgium took the lead. A swift break from the back saw the ball fed wide to the right where Van Aubel had space to look up, he fizzed in a low cross that a diving Briels deflected over Pinner to send the home crowd wild.
England had a good chance to hit an immediate equaliser as Barry Middleton found Tom Carson on the baseline, his measured cross was diverted wide of the far post by David Condon.
With half time approaching, Belgium forced another penalty corner. A behind-the-back pass set up Loick Luypaert but the KHC Dragons star, the top scorer in last season’s Euro Hockey League was unusually wayward and blazed his effort wide.
England started the second half brightly in the hunt for an equaliser. Nick Catlin broke well from right to left and found Ben Arnold but his reverse stick shot was charged down by the defender.
On 44 minutes, Belgium doubled their lead. Simon Gougnard burst away down the left and got to the baseline, his cross found its way through to Truyens who took a touch and lashed a low shot through Pinner’s legs to make it 2-0. Pinner was also called upon to keep out Tom Boon, scorer of four goals in the competition so far, first saving his penalty corner with a strong glove before being alive to the rebound and kicking to safety.
Henry Weir worked hard to keep a shackles on the Belgian attack. The young Wimbledon player, as he has all tournament, used the ball well and defended bravely, making one outrageous diving block to deny Sebastien Dockier.
England had a gilt edged opportunity to drag themselves back into the contest. Richard Smith’s penalty corner was saved by Vanasch. Tom Carson did well to control the rebound and get a shot off, but whilst his effort beat the goalkeeper, it also beat the post.
Such small margins decide these big games, and with England squandering a chance at one end, they were duly punished at the other. Arthur Van Doren fired a long ball into the D that popped up off a defender’s stick. Van Aubel swiveled and volleyed at goal in one movement, hitting the ball down into the bottom corner to make it 3-0 and the game all but safe.
Belgium began to turn on the style with an array of tricks, flicks and skills coming out, to the delight of the crowd. Pinner did well to save from John-John Dohmen as the Red Lions threatened to run riot.
Catlin was still determined to get his side on the scoresheet. His excellent diagonal run and inch-perfect pass almost set up Middleton but his swept finish was smothered by Vanasch. On the final whistle England had a penalty corner. Despite Belgium’s unassailable lead, England went for goal and then, to the disgust of the crowd, successfully used their video referral to win another corner. With jeers ringing out, Richard Smith went for goal again but his effort was touched over the top and Belgium celebrated.
Whilst an obvious disappointment to exit at the semi-final stage, Bobby Crutchley’s side put up a good fight against arguably the best team in World Hockey at the moment. England need to learn a lesson about taking their chances, which Belgium did, and they didn’t. Barry Middleton and his men must pick themselves up to try and wrestle the bronze medal away from the Dutch on Sunday.
For Belgium, they now go head to head with old foes Germany in the final. A big, noisy crowd will roar them on in what promises to be a superb game.