There was a distinctly fiesta feel to Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre as Spain won through to the quarter-finals of the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup, London 2018.
The opening match of the knock-out phase was a tense and cagey affair as Belgium (FIH Hero World Ranking:13), the runners-up in Pool D, went head-to-head with Spain (WR:11). With a quarter-final match against Germany on the line, both the Red Panthers of Belgium and Spain’s Red Sticks were conservative in their attacking play, reluctant to commit too many players forward seemingly out of fear of conceding.
While excellent defensive organisation kept genuine scoring chances to a minimum, there were occasional moments where it seemed the deadlock might be broken. A weaving run and shot from Spain’s Begona Garcia forced a decent but comfortable save from Belgium goalkeeper Aisling D’Hooghe in the first quarter, while the defences of both teams used smart video referrals to overturn penalty corners awarded against them in the second period.
“We really deserve this because we did a great job out there.” Berta Bonastre
Belgium were perhaps the better team as half time neared, with Stephanie Vanden Borre having two penalty corner efforts charged down before a late Spanish counter-attack brought another good save from D’Hooghe.
The sides continued to cancel each other out in the third and fourth quarters, although the two best opportunities arguably fell the way of the Spaniards. Lola Riera sent her penalty corner drag-flick over the crossbar before Garcia missed a glorious chance to score a late winner when she crashed an off-target backhand strike into the body of a Belgian defender.
The nerves of the attacking players were there for all to see in the shootout, with only Louise Versavel and Pauline Leclef of Belgium and Spanish duo Lola Riera – converting a penalty stroke after a foul on Beatriz Perez – and Berta Bonastre finding the target from ten attempts, triggering sudden death.
The defining moment arrived after Vitality Player of the Match Beatriz Perez made it 3-2 with a supremely cool effort. Louise Versavel failed to convert her chance and so Spain had set up a quarter-final date with Germany.
“That was a difficult game”, said a delighted Berta Bonastre after the match. “We are two teams who know each other well. We have been talking about reaching this level for a number of years and working hard to achieve it. We really deserve this because we did a great job out there.”
Speaking about her team’s exit from the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup London 2018, Belgium captain Anouk Raes said: “In the first half we were really good and again in the third half. But Spain are very tough to play, they have a good structure, good creativity and some really excellent players, who stopped us playing our lines. We have come a long way but this is not the first time we have lost a shoot-out. We need to keep practicing.”
The quarter finals will be played on 1 August. Spain will play Germany at 18:00 (UCT).
Photograph: Vitality Women’s World Cup, FIH Frank Uijlenbroek (c)