Belgium and the Netherlands close out Pro League year with eight-goal cracker

The FIH Pro League’s short autumn series ended with a bang as men’s league leaders Belgium nicked the bonus point against the Netherlands after a thrilling contest finished 4-4 at the Royal Uccle Sports Complex in Brussels.  

In a match that saw action swinging rapidly from one end of the field to the other from start to finish, it was the Red Lions – the reigning World and European champions – who took the lead when Alexander Hendrickx scored a trademark penalty corner before open play strikes from Jeroen Hertzberger and Thierry Brinkman turned the match around to put the Dutch into a 2-1 lead at the quarter-time break.  

The two sides traded blows in the third quarter, with Maxime Plennevaux’s stunning overhead smash levelling the scores for Belgium before Jip Janssen immediately restored the Dutch lead from a penalty corner situation.  

The Red Lions wrestled the match back in their favour early in the fourth quarter as goals from Florent Van Aubel and a second for Hendrickx established a 4-3 lead. However, Belgium conceded within a minute of the re-start for a third time when Billy Bakker raced through to fire home, sending the match to a shoot-out.  

Belgian goalkeeper Loic Van Doren was the hero in the one-on-ones, being beaten just once as the Red Lions triumphed 3-1 to seal a bonus point, extending their advantage over the Netherlands at the top of the standings from seven to eight points, having played two games more than the Dutchmen.   
“Battles against the Netherlands are always great”, said Floren Van Aubel, who was named Player of the Match. “We have a nice history together and we knew it was going to be very tough. I think we provided a good show for the people at home.” 
Netherlands captain Billy Bakker said: “It was a tough game for us. We were in front, not dominating the game but we were playing very well in these circumstances. They scored two good goals and we are happy that we could eventually make it 4-4. It was a pity that we lost on shoot-outs, but that’s okay.”  
The contest between the Netherlands and Belgium was a personal milestone match for Dutch umpire Coen van Bunge, who took charge of his 100th senior international.  
Earlier in the day, the Netherlands women extended their advantage at the top of the standings with a comprehensive 4-0 triumph over Belgium’s Red Panthers.  
The reigning World, European and FIH Hockey Pro League title holders were in dominant form, taking a 1-0 lead three minutes ahead of half time through Lidewij Welten before Frederique Matla, Lauren Stam and Margot van Geffen – who hit a stunning strike into the roof of the Belgian goal – netted third quarter goals to all three points against the home favourites. 
The Oranje are now six points clear of second placed Argentina at the top of the table, with both teams having played eight matches to date.      
“We made it 4-0, but we wanted to score more”, said van Geffen, who was named Player of the Match. “We had opportunities to score more, but it was a good game.” 

On Thursday morning, however, news came through that upcoming games have been pushed back. With the travel constraints governed by the regulations in place in Germany, Belgium and China due to the COVID-19 global health pandemic, the FIH, on request of the travelling teams involved, has decided to postpone GB against Germany next week and China’s games against Belgium in January.