England into World Cup Semi-Finals

140609 ENG BEL 03 Photo by Ady Kerry

England are through to the Rabobank World Cup Semi-Final after a nail-biting 3-2 victory over rivals Belgium. It was the final group game in Pool A and England needed the win to take the three points and steal second place from the Red Lions who only needed a draw to go through. Iain Lewers was calmness personified in the 66th minute as he fired his penalty stroke into the roof of Belgium’s goal to give his side the 3-2 victory.

BELGIUM 2 (1)
Thomas Briels 13 (FG)
Tanguy Cosyns 63 (PC)

ENGLAND 3 (1)
Nick Catlin 19 (FG)
Ashley Jackson 39 (FG)
Iain Lewers 66 (PS)

With a place in the Semi-Final secured, England must now wait and see who they will face as Pool B play their final group matches tomorrow. With host nation the Netherlands in a commanding position at the top of the table it seems likely that they will be England’s noisy opponents on Friday evening.

Goal-scorer Nick Catlin said after the game: “It feels unbelievable, we did it the hard way, but we defended brilliantly, broke well on the counter, and I thought we played exceptionally well. It was a team performance. The last 30 seconds felt like a lifetime!”

The evening marked 100 England caps for Beeston’s Adam Dixon and East Grinstead’s Ashley Jackson.

England started brightly, with Mark Gleghorne driving into the circle from the right flank to signal his team’s attacking intentions. But they were wary of the goal-scoring and counter-attacking threat of the Belgians, who had scored freely in the World Cup up to this match.

England looked to take the aerial route on a number of occasions early on but it was Belgium who created the first clear-cut chance, with Cedric Charlier finding himself free in the circle, and drilling a shot at George Pinner who saved well. In the process England lost Tim Whiteman to a broken finger.

Ten minutes into the game Belgium had the first penalty corner, won by Tanguy Cosyns, who took on the flick himself but shot just wide of goal. A minute later, Belgium opened the scoring via a brilliant run and pass up the right flank by Simon Gougnard, who pulled the ball back for Thomas Briels to finish.

England had a chance to hit back immediately with a penalty corner, the shot by Jackson saved, and in shooting Jackson injured his already damaged right shoulder. He battled on, and Tom Boon had a golden opportunity at the other end, shooting just wide. He had another shot with a penalty corner moments later, brilliantly saved low down to Pinner’s right.

England then got an equaliser, a shot from the edge of the circle by Nick Catlin bouncing up off the turf to beat goalkeeper Vincent Vanash, deflecting into the roof of the net of a combination of his and Ashley Jackson’s sticks.

With ten minutes of the first half left, a drilled cross from the left by Tom Carson was almost finished by a sliding Harry Martin. A brilliant reflex save from Vanash saved a goal via a deflection off a Belgian stick, and shortly afterwards Alistair Brogdon received a green car for England, but they were able to see out the half, going in at 1-1.

Four minutes into the second half, England went 2-1 up – Ashley Jackson setting Nick Catlin free up the right, who showed his pace to beat Belgian defenders and cross for Jackson to finish, for a superb English goal.

England kept more numbers back to defend their lead, with Belgium always looking dangerous as they pressed forward. However England won two penalty corners, the second of which was referred by Belgium after a goal-mouth scrap, but Belgium lost their appeal. Vanash saved the second penalty corner from Gleghorne.

Next it was Belgium’s turn with a penalty corner, but after two attempts the brilliant charge-downs from Dan Fox paid off. Belgium persisted though and they finally drew level through a fourth penalty corner, a low flick to the bottom right corner from Cosyns.

The crucial moment in the game came with five minutes to play. England won a penalty corner, the resulting shot causing controversy with a penalty stroke being given for the block on the line by Xavier Reckinger, which the Belgium team appealed but their arguments were not answered by the umpires. Iain Lewers stepped up and was calmness personified as he roofed the ball past Vanasch to score what proved to be the vital goal for England.

Belgium had more chances in a heated final few minutes, but England were able to hold on for a memorable win, ecstatic scenes and a place in the World Cup semi-finals.

Speaking after the game England Captain Barry Middleton was proud of the team performance: “Everyone has to put everything on the line. Your body, your feet, your hands, whatever you can get there to stop the ball coming in. In a couple of games we felt we’d let ourselves down because we had plans but didn’t stick to them and didn’t quite play the way we wanted. Today we showed everyone the talent this team has. If you want to win big games you have to battle and do the dirty stuff and that’s what we did.”

Head coach Bobby Crutchley added, “Last year in the semi-final of the Europeans we lost to Belgium [3-0] and we were convincingly outplayed. They are a top team; a young, top team. They are going to be a threat in the back end of tournaments for a long time. We knew we had to play well and we knew we had to defend for long periods and be very disciplined with our shape and I thought for the majority of the game we were. I’d have liked us to have had more possession and put them on the back foot a bit more but those big games are often decided on digging in and fighting and I’m really proud of the team. It’s a fantastic result against a really quality opposition.”

On the injury to Tim Whiteman in the first half: “It looks like Tim has broken his thumb. We’ll get that checked and confirmed as soon as we can. I presume he’ll be unavailable for the semi-final.”

England women next play tomorrow at 15:00 (UK time), which is followed by a tournament rest day on Wednesday.

England men’s next game will be on Friday in the Semi Final of the World Cup at either 1415 or 1700 BST.

You can find the men's and women's tournament schedules in our International Fixtures section, or all of them together here.