Belfius EuroHockey Championship

Women’s Pool A: Netherlands 1 (F Matla) Belgium 1 (M Struijk)

Hosts Belgium fought back to earn a big draw against the reigning champion Netherlands in as Michelle Struijk’s goal earned a share of the spoils in a dramatic 1-1 at Wilrijkse Plein.

Frederique Matla had given the Dutch a 1-0 lead as they controlled the opening stages but Belgium grew and grew into the game and duly deserved their draw.

The world number one side started with major intent, drawing multiple stops from goalkeeper Aisling D’Hooghe. Frederique Matla gave them the lead in the eighth minute with a devastating power-shot at the end of a flowing team move.

It looked like they would add to this total as Caia van Maasakker’s penalty corner shot was deflected wide and a lovely Malou Pheninckx run ended with another stop from D’Hooghe.

But Belgium have caused the Dutch plenty of problems in recent years and they showed little fear for the fight, spurred on by a loud local crowd.

Toward the end of the first half, they were the ones making the play and Jill Boon’s outstanding stick skills and her innovative reverse-stick strike went inches wide of the goal.

They thought they had an equaliser early in the second half. Umpire Ivona Makar initially awarded a goal for a corner rebound after Stephanie van den Borre’s initial shot.

But, on the umpire’s own review, it was disallowed as it was deemed she had already blown for a penalty corner before signalling a goal.

It remained an even contest and Elodie Picard took over the goalkeeping duties well to save from Matla’s drag-flick. The equaliser arrived just before the end of the third quarter when van den Borre’s sweep was half-blocked as far as Struijk who made no mistake with her rebound.

The fourth quarter mostly saw the two sides cancel each other out as their equal efforts to force a winner could not find that killer moment. It leaves all to play for in the group with Spain top of the pool thanks to their win over Russia.

Speaking afterwards, Belgium’s Jill Boon was thrilled with their performance: “It was a really great start. We couldn’t wait to get started in the tournament.

“We know the Netherlands is a tough opponent and to get a point out of it, it’s amazing but now we have to go on and focus on Russia. We love playing in front of this crowd.

“It’s been years that we have been growing now toward the top ten but it’s only the start. The goal is to get out of the pool but also to enjoy every game at home in front of such an amazing atmosphere and organisation. We want to do our best.”

Umpires: A Keogh (IRL), Y Makar (CRO)

Netherlands – Belgium

8’ Frederique Matla (FG) 1-0

45’ Michelle Struijk (PC) 1-1