England 2 (1)
Wallace (4’, PS); Ansell (31’, FG)
Belgium 1 (1)
Boon (5’, PS)
England’s men produced a brilliant performance to beat Belgium and move to the top of Pool A at the 2021 EuroHockey Championships.
In a fast, frenetic and absorbing game, Danny Kerry’s team showed plenty of attacking skill and defensive nous to overcome the team currently ranked number one in the world.
Zach Wallace and Liam Ansell both scored their second goals of the tournament to secure the win, while at the other end Ollie Payne produced a number of important saves in just his second England cap.
That result means England sit atop their group with six points ahead of Belgium and Spain, who both have three. A draw in their remaining game against the Spanish would be enough for the team to qualify for the semi-finals.
Billed as one of the most anticipated matches of the group stages, the first quarter certainly lived up to the hype as it began at a frantic pace. England won four corners in a row early on, the final flick from Phil Roper blocked by a body on the line. That led a penalty stroke being awarded which Wallace duly converted.
They didn’t have the lead for long though, with Belgium winning their first corner moments later with the resulting effort hitting Tom Sorsby’s face mask on the goal line, with Tom Boon producing an unstoppable stroke to level proceedings.
Both teams won several more corners in the opening quarter but were unable to add to the scoreline, while in the final moments England raced forward on the break but Roper’s shot on the spin was saved by Vincent Vanasch.
Belgium enjoyed plenty of possession in the second quarter but it was England who came closest to scoring again in the 28th minute, Will Calnan unable to turn Jack Waller’s cross on target before Ansell fired a shot towards goal that Vanasch saved with his feet.
Having had to make a save just 30 seconds before the end of the half, Ollie Payne was then required to make another smart block in overtime to keep out another Belgian corner and ensured the score remained level at half-time.
England then made the perfect start to the second half, scoring after just 35 seconds as Wallace raced down the right hand side of the pitch before crossing the ball for Ansell to tap home his second goal of the tournament.
Roper and Sam Ward combined to produce an almost identical goal two minutes later, the latter’s effot skewing wide, before the reigning world champions turned up the pressure once more. Payne was required to make another smart save with his feet in the 36th minute before keeping out yet another corner with his pads shortly after.
Ill discipline crept into the game in the closing stages as Arthur de Sloover, Gauthier Boccard and Ward all received yellow cards, while Vanasch was on hand once again to deny Adam Dixon and James Gall looked for a third goal.
But as the minutes wore on, the Belgian press increased and England found themselves camped inside their own half. But the defence held solid, stopping everything the Belgians threw at them to pull off a massive victory.
After the game, Wallace said: “We contained them well. Belgium are a quality side, look at what they’ve done in the last couple of years. We had the tactics and fair play to everyone for going out and executing them.
“We’ve been working on staying concentrated to the end of games and to be fair to everyone we nailed it.”
England’s final group game against Spain is at 16:00 on Tuesday 8 June and will be live on BT Sport 1.
Starting XI: Ames, Martin, Griffiths, Sloan, Roper, Dixon (C), Payne (GK), Ansell, Gall, Sanford, Wallace
Subs (Used): Ward, Creed, Goodfield, Waller, Sorsby, Calnan
Subs (Unused): Pinner (GK)