A sell-out crowd at Amsterdam’s Wagener Stadium was on hand to watch Australia become the first ever men’s winners of the FIH Pro League, defeating world champions Belgium 3-2 in a breathtaking final on Sunday (30 June 2019)
First half goals from Trent Mitton, Flynn Ogilvie and Blake Govers proved to be just enough for the Kookaburras, with late strikes from Loick Luypaert and Alexander Hendrickx setting up a thrilling finish but not quite enough for the brilliant Belgians. It was a fitting finish to a wonderful FIH Pro League Grand Final event in Amsterdam, bringing the curtain down on six months of top class international hockey played across the globe.
As well as winning the FIH Pro League, Australia have reclaimed their place at the top of the FIH World Rankings, which have been updated and can be found here. The next rankings update will take place on 8 September 2019, following the completion of the Continental Championships.
The Kookaburras also took a trio of individual awards, with midfielder Aran Zalewski was named Best Player of the FIH Pro League, striker Blake Govers finishing as the Hero Top Scorer (12 goals) and Tyler Lovell taking the Volvo Best Goalkeeper of the FIH Pro Grand Final award. Belgium’s Tom Boon won the Deloitte Best Goal of the FIH Pro League Grand Final event thanks to his stunning solo effort against the Netherlands in the semi-finals on Friday (28 June).
Australia were exceptional in the first two quarters of the title match, dominating a Belgium team that lost talismanic defender Arthur Van Doren early in the contest through injury. It was a significant blow for the Red Lions, already missing injured team captain Thomas Briels, who now had to face the regular FIH Pro League table toppers without two of their most influential players.
The Kookaburras deservedly took the lead in the ninth minute of the match when Trent Mitton fired home on the turn after Jake Whetton had brilliantly stolen possession from Belgium midfielder Victor Wegnez, a lead that was doubled just before the quarter-time break thanks to Flynn Ogilvie’s backhand rocket-shot.
The Red Lions improved in the second quarter and forced two fine saves from Tyler Lovell, but it was the Australians who extended their advantage as Blake Govers scored from the penalty spot after Mitton was fouled by Arthur de Sloover.
The world champions came out fighting in the third quarter, winning a succession of penalty corners before finally getting the breakthrough just before the end of the period. Loick Luypaert’s penalty corner drag-flick gave Belgium hope, with Alexander Hendrickx making it 3-2 with a strike three minutes from the end setting up a dramatic finale. However, it was the Australians who prevailed, winning the title and moving back to the top of the FIH Hero World Rankings in the process.
“We’ve played plenty of good teams and it’s great to finish on top”, said Australia goalscorer Flynn Ogilvie. “We started off red hot by scoring three goals, which was great, but didn’t finish off too well and they showed their class towards the end. It’s been exciting, every game has been interesting. It’s been a quality competition, as shown by this weekend, which has been top class.”
Belgium’s John-John Dohmen said: “I think it was a great second half. We didn’t start really well, Australia were really good tactically and physically in the first half and it was really hard for us. We changed our tactics [in the second half] and started to dominate, but too late at 3-0, it was a bit difficult.”
Earlier in the day, home favourites the Netherlands ended their FIH Pro League campaign on a positive note with a 5-3 triumph over Great Britain in a hugely entertaining 3-4 play-off game.
The crowd were treated to a thrilling match, with Jeroen Hertzberger putting the Netherlands ahead with a diving deflection in the first quarter before GB’s Zach Wallace restored parity in the second period when he forced home from a goal-mouth scramble. In a remarkable three minute passage of play, the two teams traded four goals with Henry Weir and Phil Roper twice edging the Brits ahead while Hertzberger and Mink van der Weerden pulling the Dutch level on each occasion to send the teams into half time at 3-3.
Both sides had chances in the third quarter, but it was the Dutch who moved into a 5-3 lead thanks to a double from striker Mirco Pruijser, who produced superb first time finishes from crosses from the right as the Netherlands took charge charge. Pruijser’s second goal was a cracker, with Mink van der Weerden tearing down the right hand side of the field to receive a huge cross field overhead pass from defence before finding Pruijser who guided a wonderful first time slap into the the bottom left corner. It proved to be an unassailable lead, with the Oranje delighting the home crowd with their success.
“I’m pretty happy we got the bronze”, said Netherlands double goal-scorer Jeroen Hertzberger. “At the end of the day it’s not the match we wanted to play, but overall giving this crowd a victory was the only thing we could do. I think we played a fun game, and that was our objective, to have fun today. I did, and I think most of the boys did and we showed some good hockey.”
Great Britain goal-scorer Phil Roper said: “We’ve got to go away from this competition with our heads held high. Playing in Holland against Holland, it was a great game. It’s a real shame we couldn’t come away with a medal, but we can look back as know that we have grown so much as a team. We’ve got to push and really start challenging those guys for a medal.”
Ahead of the match, Netherlands captain Billy Bakker received a huge cheer from the fans in recognition of his 200th senior international appearance.