In the first quarter final, a close-fought and tense match between England and Belgium saw the teams separated by a single goal. England, who remain unbeaten, looked very uncomfortable at times, but a series of saves by George Pinner kept England in the hunt for the title and consigned Belgium to yet another defeat.
After a goalless first half, Reading’s Tom Carson was back on the score sheet for the third time this tournament; this time it was from a penalty corner drag-flick in the 47th minute. However, it was at the opposite end of the pitch where the victory was sealed, thanks in no small part to a world-class performance by Beeston’s George Pinner, who stood strong in goal to keep a determined Belgium out.
The result goes some way to making up for the disappointment of losing 3-0 to the world number five side in the semi-finals at the EuroHockey Championships last summer and speaking after the game Head Coach Bobby Crutchley said: “I think the result and performance today reflects on how far we’ve come as a team since the Europeans. We’ve improved a lot, even over the four games in this tournament, and to get a win over a side as strong as Belgium is credit to how hard the team has worked over the last five months in training. I think the quality of our defending was outstanding today, but it is the improved team performance across the whole pitch which is encouraging.”
“Looking ahead to Friday, I still want us to improve our attacking play on the ball and convert the chances we create into more goals. We’re much more tactically astute than we were in the summer and that shows the progress of us developing from being an inexperienced team to beating some of the top sides in the world here.”
Speaking on the team performance, Belgium Coach Marc Lammers said “it was a tight game today for both the sides and we missed put on 4-5 penalty corners which resulted in us missing out on this game. The team did not play as per expectations and we need to learn to convert the opportunities that we get. For the World Cup we have our work cut out and need to improve from here”.
The game opened at quite a tempo as both sides pushed hard to make their mark early on. A well worked move between Reading teammates Simon Mantell and Tom Carson saw Carson hit a brilliant volley past Vanash in Belgium’s goal, but Belgium successfully overturned the decision with the help of the video umpire after the replays showed the ball coming down off Mantell’s body in the circle.
The momentum switched away from England after the disallowed goal and the red lions pushed forward, but England kept their calm and closed down Belgium’s chances to keep a clean sheet and a 0-0 score line going into the break.
The game opened up in the second half as more chances started to fall to both sides. Mantell and Carson continued to cause trouble in attack with some great link up play, and in the 47th minute Carson got his reward. After a series of penalty corners, Carson stepped up to the top of the circle and drove his drag-flick low to the right of Vanash to give England a 1-0 lead.
Belgium threw everything they had at England in the final stages. A brilliant stop in front of goal from Iain Lewers was followed by an untimely yellow card for the East Grinstead star close to full time, which undoubtedly put England on the back foot even more. Pinner, in England’s goal, was emphatic across the 70 minutes and made several vital saves in the closing stages to keep the score line in England’s favour and seal the 1-0 victory and a place in the semi-final.
Speaking after the game, Hero Man of the Match George Pinner said, “It’s really nice to play my part in a strong team performance today. I think we’ve played really well in the first three games and the guys have defended brilliantly so I haven’t had that much to do. It was just nice to play a good part today and get the win.”
Adding his thoughts on Friday’s match, Pinner said: “Bring on whoever [Argentina or New Zealand] in the Semi-Final. You come to a tournament like this with eight of the best sides in the world and there are no easy games. We’ve won four from four, our confidence is high and we’ll take whoever we get.”
There’s a rest day tomorrow for the teams ahead of the semi-finals on Friday where England will face either New Zealand or Argentina at 12:15pm.