Friday, 7 December 2012: Despite an encouraging start England lost the first of their two Champions Trophy classification matches to Belgium, going down 4-0 in Melbourne. While England started brightly they failed to convert two early penalty corners and as the match wore on tiredness began to play a part with the ever improving Belgians taking full advantage.
Head Coach Jason Lee said afterwards, “I was pleased with the performance in the first 20 to 25 minutes but we failed to capitalise on our chances in that spell. In the second half it was clear to see us starting to tire as we reach the end of what has been a long trip.”
The match, the first of two in the contest for fifth to eighth places, was the ninth competitive fixture for England’s young side since the start of the International Super Series Hockey 9s tournament 15 days ago. Defeat means that England will play off for seventh place tomorrow against the loser of the contest between Germany and New Zealand.
It was Belgium that came out ahead from an overall even first half, of which England had enjoyed the best of early play before the Red Lions forced their way into the game. England looked the more threatening in the opening stages with two early penalty corners and a string of passes fired into the Belgian circle. But after East Grinstead’s Mark Gleghorne walked off the pitch with a shoulder injury following a heavy collision with the Belgian goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch England found themselves pressed further onto the back foot as Belgium moved forward.
In the 25th minute, England goalkeeper George Pinner did well to keep out Belgium’s only penalty corner of the first half as he dived low to his right to tip the ball around the post with his stick. But the Beeston stopper’s goal was breached just two minutes later. A fluid Belgian attack down the English left resulted in the ball being squeezed back from the baseline, eliminating Pinner, where it fell on the penalty spot to the Red Lions’ captain Jerome Truyens who made no mistake to fire Belgium 1-0 ahead at the break.
Gleghorne returned for the second half and following another save from Pinner, this time with his left glove, his Beeston teammate Ollie Willars came close to equalising at the other end, only to see his reverse stick shot bravely deflected wide. England thought they had levelled through Simon Egerton with 20 minutes remaining but a good piece of umpiring from Raghu Prasad correctly ruled the ball had come back out off the post. The umpire used his video referral to check his initial decision but it proved right.
And so the match turned. Belgium’s Tom Boon was thwarted by another excellent Pinner save before, a minute later, Charlier converted from close range after he received a pass from the left of the circle. And England went from 2-0 down to 3-0 down within a matter of minutes as Truyens netted again, knocking home from just inches out.
Despite their late efforts England could not find a route into the Belgian circle and as the clock counted down, they faced one final penalty corner. Rounding off a good day for the Belgians, Loick Luypert stepped up to unleash a superb, powerful flick inside the right post to hand Belgium a 4-0 victory.
London Olympian Harry Martin, the youngest member of the squad, said afterwards, “We didn’t play as we meant to. We’re disappointed because we wanted more than that. But overall our performances have been good. I’m amazed at how well everyone has done considering we hadn’t played as a squad before we arrived in Australia.” Martin, 20, is one of five players shortlisted by the International Hockey Federation for its Young Player of the Year Award, an accolade that English hockey star Ashley Jackson won in 2009.
The result means that England will play off for seventh and eighth against the loser of the match between Germany and New Zealand while Belgium progress to the fifth place playoff, remaining in the hunt for automatic entry to the next edition of the Champions Trophy tournament in 2014.
Former Reading and Loughborough Students midfielder Nick Catlin made his 50th appearance for England in the match.
England’s final classification playoff match can be seen online on ww.fih.livesport.tv from 21:30 GMT on Saturday.