England top Pool A with Belgium draw

Iain Lewers celebrates scoring against Belgium at CT2014

England 1 (0)
Iain Lewers 48 (FG)

Belgium 1 (1)
Amaury Keusters 9 (FG)

A point was enough for England to secure their place at the top of Pool A after a close encounter with rivals Belgium finished 1-1 at the Hero Champions Trophy. In their final pool match the Red Lions took a deserved lead in the first quarter through Amaury Keusters. After watching his penalty stroke rebound off the woodwork just before half-time Holcombe’s Iain Lewers showed his class with a pin-point accurate reverse stick effort in the 48th minute to bring his side back level and secure England’s first place finish in the pool. The result means that Head Coach Bobby Crutchley’s side will face the team who finishes fourth in Pool B in the Quarter Finals, India or Germany, which will be decided following the final pool match between India and the Netherlands at 1400 [UK time]. The quarter final will be shown live on Sky Sports and is likely to be played at 0600 [v Germany] or 1400 [v India] depending on England’s opponent and FIH scheduling.

Head Coach Bobby Crutchley reflected after the game:
“All our games against Belgium are close and today was no different. It wasn’t pretty on occasions, but we created good chances and edged possession and we could have won it.  The conditions were more challenging today than in our games against Pakistan and Australia, and the humidity got to us a bit in the second half as our pace slowed.

 “We know we’ve got to play our best hockey from now on. Neither game against Germany or India will be easy, these are the best teams in the world. Germany certainly haven’t played their best hockey here yet, but they are past masters at upping their game in the knock out phases. If we face India it will be a great experience to play in front of a packed crowd and a good challenge because we’ve had such good games against them in the past couple of years.”

With both sides still able to finish top of the pool, as expected, it was a tense opening quarter. Belgium had the lion’s share of possession but it was England who got the first shot away at goal. Ashley Jackson slipped the ball to Alastair Brogdon, who fired in a reverse stick shot, forcing Vincent Vanasch into a save. Immediately following this England attack, Belgium got the breakthrough with Amaury Keusters opening the scoring in the ninth minute. Tanguy Cosyns found the No11 in the middle of the circle and his low backhand shot beat George Pinner.

There were chances for both the world number four [Belgium] and world number five [England] sides in the second quarter, but by far the best opportunity fell to England in the closing minutes when they won their first penalty corner of the match. Jackson’s drag flick was saved onto the post and the rebound fell to Beeston’s Sam Ward who was fouled as he followed up. Belgium protested the decision by umpire Paco Vazquez to award a penalty stroke, but their referral was unsuccessful. Holcombe’s Iain Lewers stepped up to take the stroke, but the woodwork saved Vanasch again, as his shot came back off the cross bar.

The third quarter was end to end, with both sides winning penalty corners but ultimately failing to convert their chances. The physical, fast paced encounter in humid conditions was starting to take its toll on both sides as the pace dropped a little and in the final minute of the quarter a tired tackle from the Red Lions’ Florent van Aubel on Barry Middleton led to him receiving a yellow card and gave England a man advantage going into the final period.

It took Crutchley’s side just three minutes to capitalise on the advantage as Lewers made amends with a fantastic individual goal. The Holcombe defender picked up Jackson’s pass outside the circle, drove to the left eliminating the Belgium defender and fired an unstoppable backhand shot into the bottom right corner to bring his side back level.

It was a tense finish to the game as Belgium surged forward looking for the winner to overtake England at the top of Pool A, however Pinner [nominated for FIH Men’s International Goalkeeper of the Year] was on hand again to powerfully punch out Cosyns’ drag flick from a Belgian penalty corner to keep the scores level.

Hero Man of the Match and England goal scorer Iain Lewers spoke after the game about his individual goal and the potential quarter final opponents. 

“That’s probably the best open play goal I’ve scored. I’ve not scored one of those in a long time so it’s great to contribute to the team.
A lot of us would love to play India. The home support here is absolutely brilliant and fanatical and it’s great to play in those sorts of games. We’ll be watching their game against the Netherlands later with great interest.”

Enjoyed that exciting encounter? You can see both these sides in action next August at the 2015 EuroHockey Championships in London. Click here to find out more or to book your tickets!