Australia and Germany have completed the line-up for the women’s competition at the FIH Pro League Grand Final, joining the Netherlands and Argentina at the showpiece event in Amstelveen following results on a fascinating day of action on Sunday (16 June).
An early double strike from Jane Claxton helped the Hockeyroos beat Germany 3-1 in Krefeld to guarantee a top four finish, earning tickets to this month’s FIH Pro League Grand Final in Amsterdam and also the FIH Olympic qualifiers, which take place later this year. Despite defeat, Germany’s berth in the Grand Final was confirmed when Belgium – the only team mathematically capable of overtaking them in the standings – suffered a 3-0 home loss against New Zealand in Antwerp, with Black Sticks striker Olivia Merry scoring a hat-trick. To see the current women’s FIH Pro League standings, click here.
In the men’s competition, Australia and Belgium booked their tickets to the FIH Pro League Grand Final thanks to victories over Germany and New Zealand respectively. Goals from Tom Craig and Blake Govers helped the Kookaburras to a 2-1 away triumph over Die Honamas in Krefeld to guarantee a top four finish and effectively end Germany’s qualification hopes, while Red Lions captain Thomas Briels scored twice as Belgium beat the Black Sticks 4-0 in Antwerp. Australia ended the day sitting top of the FIH Pro League standings with 26 points, with Belgium in second place with 25 points.
A last-gasp penalty corner from Leandro Tolini earned Argentina a dramatic 3-2 win over Spain in Madrid, a result which sees them sitting fourth in the table, just behind third-placed Netherlands. The Oranje (22 points) and Los Leones (20 points) are looking good to join Australia and Belgium in the Grand Final, although with the Dutch and the Argentines facing each other on Wednesday (19 June) in Utrecht, Great Britain (19 points) know that their qualification hopes are still alive ahead of their final match against New Zealand next weekend. To see the current men’s FIH Pro League standings, click here.
Germany v Australia (women & men) – Crefelder Hockey Club, Krefeld (GER)
In the women’s match, Germany (FIH World Ranking: 5) made a slow start to their clash with Australia (WR:3) and were duly punished when Jane Claxton scored twice from open play inside the opening three minutes. Things went from bad to worse for Die Danas when they lost star attacker Charlotte Stapenhorst to a nasty looking knee injury towards the end of the first quarter, with Emily Chalker’s close range finish putting Australia 3-0 ahead midway through the second period. Germany were much improved after half time and scored early thanks to Hannah Gablac’s cool finish, giving the home favourites a foothold in the match. However, Australia were excellent in defence, denying any further goals as they sealed their place in the FIH Pro League Grand Final.
On reaching the showpiece Grand Final event in Amstelveen, Player of the Match Jane Claxton said: “We are pretty excited about it. Going into this game we knew that Germany had played a succession of really quality games, so we knew we had to put it to them early today. I’m not a huge goalscorer, so I was a bit shocked, as you saw from [ the celebration for] the second goal. We’ve got two really tough games [against Belgium and Netherlands] leading up to the Finals, but I think that will give us great preparation for the Final series.” Despite defeat, it was a special day for Germany women’s captain Janne Müller-Wieland, who made her 300th appearances for Die Danas.
The men’s fixture between Germany (WR:6) and Australia (WR:2) saw both sides looking to recover from defeats. Die Honamas were aiming to bounce back from their painful 8-0 home loss against Belgium, while the Kookaburras were targeting their first FIH Pro League win in Europe following a shoot-out loss to Great Britain and a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Spain in Madrid. Following very even first and second quarters, the Australians made the breakthrough in the this period when Tom Craig smashed a backhand strike into the top right corner of the German goal after excellent approach play from Corey Weyer. Niklas Bosserhoff missed a good chance to equalise for Germany before Blake Govers scored from a penalty corner at the second attempt, firing his reverse stick shot into the goal after his initial drag-flick had been charged down. Marco Miltkau’s clever volley from the pass of Niklas Wellen gave Germany a glimmer of hope in the final moments, but Australia did enough to claim all three points and qualify for the showpiece Grand Final on the occasion of Eddie Ockenden’s 350th senior international match.
Australia’s Daniel Beale, named Player of the Match, said: “We knew that a point today was going to put us in the final, so we are happy with the win but we came her looking for just that one point. We knew it was Eddie Ockenden’s 350th game. He’s only the second ever Kookaburra to achieve that, so we wanted to put on a big performance for him. We know Germany is never an easy beat, and today was no exception.
Spain v Argentina (men) – Club de Campos Villa, Madrid (ESP)
Spain (WR:9) produced an outstanding first half performance to establish a richly deserved 2-0 lead against Olympic champions Argentina (WR:4), as the Red Sticks aimed to make it three FIH Pro League wins in succession at Madrid’s Club de Campos Villa. A superb backhand strike from Ignacio Rodriguez put the hosts in front after two minutes before Pau Quemada scored his tenth goal of the FIH Pro League with a deflected shot to double Spain’s lead just before half time.
Argentina, inspired by the vision and creativity of the attacking star Lucas Vila, were in sparkling form in the third period, levelling the scores thanks to goals from Player of the Match Leandro Tolini and Juan Lopez. Tolini produced an unstoppable penalty corner drag-flick that clipped the bottom of the left post before crossing the goal-line, with Lopez guiding home a pass from Pedro Ibarra with deftest of touches to wrong-foot Spanish goalkeeper Quico Cortes. Spain almost scored in the final minute when Xavi Lleonart forced veteran goalkeeper Juan Vivaldi into a brilliant reaction save, but a penalty corner won by the tireless Vila with just four seconds remaining would prove decisive. Tolini made no mistake with his drag-flick, slamming into the bottom left corner to give Argentina a dramatic win that keeps their top four ambitions very much on track.
Belgium v New Zealand (men and women) – Wilrijkse Plein, Antwerp (BEL)
In Antwerp, Belgium’s men (WR:1) knew that victory over New Zealand (WR:8) would be enough for them to secure a place in the FIH Pro League Grand Final, but they were frustrated by their opponents for long periods of the match. The Red Lions scored the opening goal in the seventh minute when Maxime Plennavaux and Nicolas de Kerpel exchanged passes to brilliantly cut through the Black Sticks defence and allow Sebastian Dockier to tap the ball into an open goal. The visiting side showed great resilience against the world champions and did not concede again until the third quarter, when a loose pass from Black Sticks defender Corey Bennett was punished by Plennavaux, who drilled powerfully into the bottom left corner from the top of the circle. Belgium captain Thomas Briels sealed the victory with two goals in the 56th minute, slotting his first from a tight angle before producing a diving deflection to complete the match scoring at 4-0, sealing his team’s place at the Grand Final later this month.
Player of the Match Maxime Plennavaux said: “It wasn’t easy at all. We had a good game but it took us time to get into it and create chances, and at the end of it physically we were a bit better than them and that is why we made the difference today. It’s been a while [since I scored], so I’m feeling really good. It’s always a good feeling to score, but it’s all about the work of the whole team.”
Belgium’s women (WR:13) knew that they needed to beat New Zealand (WR:6) to have any chance of securing a top four finish. Having defeated the Black Sticks 1-0 in the February’s away fixture, it was something that they were clearly capable of doing and certainly had their chances in this match. Teenage attacker Ambre Ballenghein was a real threat for the Red Panthers, but it was the visitors who were first to make a mark on the score-board. Olivia Merry scored the first of her three goals in the match from the penalty spot, clinically despatching her effort moments after a goal-bound strike hit the foot of a Belgium defender.
Belgium reacted impressively and were denied a certain goal thanks to some incredible defending from New Zealand, with Brooke Neale clearing off the goal-line following two saved shots from a penalty corner situation. Merry netted a second with a brave diving deflection at the end of the third period and completed her hat-trick in the final minute of the fourth, tapping in from close range for her 14th goal of the FIH Pro League campaign.
“I think it is a case of ‘right place, right time’”, said Player of the Match Olivia Merry on her remarkable scoring feats in this year’s competition, before commenting on her team’s performance. “We continued to build on the things that we worked on playing against the Netherlands [in our last match], as we haven’t really pressed teams the way we did against the Netherlands so we are looking to carry that forward into our match against GB [next weekend].”