England ended their nightmare world cup campaign with a hard fought shootout win over Belgium to avoid the wooden spoon and take 11th place. As has been the case so often in the shootout scenario, England’s hero was goalkeeper Maddie Hinch who saved from Alix Gerniers, Stephanie Vanden Borre and Stephanie De Groof before watching Lieselotte van Lindt’s effort go wide to give England the win. There was minimal celebration at the end of the shootout with England still reeling from a hugely disappointing competition.
In many ways the game reflected quite neatly how the tournament has panned out for Jason Lee’s side. They had periods of dominance and a series of penalty corners but once again, their failure to capitalise on their chances cost them dearly and De Groof’s penalty corner on full time salvaged a draw for Belgium to take the game to a shootout, cancelling out Sophie Bray’s early strike.
England started brightly and had a Hollie Webb penalty corner disallowed on four minutes. The Surbiton defender’s strike was above the backboard and so did not count.
Vanden Borre drew a good save out of Hinch with a reverse stick strike from a narrow angle that the goalkeeper did well to beat away with her glove and the Emilie Sinia also went close but her effort was again repelled by the England stopper’s gloves.
In the 16th minute, England took the lead. A splendid driving run from Susie Gilbert created space in the D and the No10’s cross was diverted towards goal by Nicola White before Bray applied the finishing touch.
Gerniers drew a splendid save out of Hinch as the half wore on, forcing the goalkeeper to display all her athleticism to track the forward before plunging to her left to make the block ensuring England went in at the break ahead.
Shortly after half time, England lost the services of Ashleigh Ball, who left the field on a stretcher after an awkward fall. The extent of her injury is not yet known.
England forced a flurry of penalty corners but Aisling D’Hooghe was in imperious form seeing off Zoe Shipperley’s strike, Kate Richardson-Walsh’s effort and then a low shot form Laura Unsworth.
With four minutes left, Belgium removed their goalkeeper and went to 11 outfield players in an attempt to rescue the game. It paid off as with the clock running down, they forced a penalty corner. De Groof’s shot found the net via Hinch’s pads and after an umpire referral the goal was given and the game headed to a shootout.
Hinch saved well from Gerniers first up before Sally Walton cooly slotted home. Aline Fobe turned the England goalkeeper one way, then the other and levelled the scores before D’Hooghe saved from White. Hinch pulled off a stunning stop to deny Vanden Borre before Gilbert drifted effortlessly past the goalkeeper and slipped the ball home to make it 21. De Groof opted to shoot early but Hinch was equal to the task before watching on as the ball agonizingly trundled wide from the rebound. Danson tried her trademark reverse stick effort but D’Hooghe read it and made the save. It was up to Van Lindt to save her side, but despite smuggling the ball past the goalkeeper it went wide of the far post and England had the win.
“It was good to get the win overall. It wasn’t the game we’d hoped to be playing in and it’s been a tough couple of weeks but we’ll go back and reflect. We’ve got a busy summer ahead with the Investec London Cup and the Commonwealth Games so we’ll try to take the positives and move on.”
“We’ve got so much character in our team. We showed that as the tournament went on and we showed the fight and character today and picked ourselves up after a tough competition to get the win. There are still strengths and positives to take from the competition and we’ll go home and work really hard and make sure we’re at our best for the coming months.”
England now move on to the Investec London Cup in July as they prepare to put their World Cup behind them and move on to the Commonwealth Games.