ENGLAND WOMEN SCRAPE INTO EUROHOCKEY SEMI-FINALS
By Colin Pike
England Women reached the semi-finals of the Belfius EuroHockey Championships in Antwerp but struggled against Belarus, ranked eighteen places below them in the world rankings before scraping a 4-3 win.
With Ireland and Germany drawing 1-1 in the last Pool B game, England finished top of the Pool and will play the runners-up of Pool A in the semi-finals on Friday.
Belarus had lost 13-0 to Germany and 11-0 to Ireland but a below par performance from England saw them suffer a scare before establishing a 2-0 lead and then allow Belarus to draw level at 2-2 and 3-3 before scoring a late goal to secure the victory.
Belarus started brightly putting England under pressure by forcing two penalty corners, goalkeeper Maddie Hinch having to make three early saves.
In the fifth minute, only the right post prevented Belarus from taking a shock lead, Ulyana Kasabutskaya playing in Krestsina Papkova to strike the woodwork.
Four minutes later, the scares seemed to be overcome as Belarus failed to clear England’s first penalty corner, Lily Owsley tapping in at the left post.
Giselle Ansley forced a save from Belarus goalkeeper Tatsiana Liavonava from England’s second penalty corner in the eleventh minute but at the end of the first quarter, Izzy Petter doubled England’s lead with a neatly angled shot into the far right corner of the goal.
However, nobody could have predicted what would happen in the second quarter, when in the 16th minute, Karya Syddykava’s drag-flick beat Hinch on its way to the bottom right corner for the first Belarus goal of the tournament.
Jo Hunter and Maryna Nikitsina then had a clash of heads which necessitated both players leaving the pitch for treatment.
If Hunter had a headache, England had a massive one in the 22nd minute when Belarus counter attacked brilliantly down the left before finding Nastassia Syrayezhka on the right of the circle, Hinch inexplicably allowing the ball to beat her and bring the underdogs level at 2-2.
Parity was short lived as England immediately won a penalty corner at the other end, Laura Unsworth putting away the rebound to restore England’s lead at 3-2.
Ansley and Hannah Martin combined at another penalty corner five minutes before half time but the shot went wide.
Petter was unlucky not to score a second goal in the 34th minute, slipping while in the process of shooting, resulting in the ball ballooning over the crossbar.
England struggled to break down the Belarus defence and were made to pay in the 53rd minute when a penalty corner routine broke down setting up a Belarus counter attack, Papkova passing to Natallia Shtsin to finish and give Belarus hope of an unlikely point with a 3-3 scoreline.
With just four minutes remaining, Sarah Evans set up Martin to score what turned out to be the winning goal and spare England’s blushes.
Surbiton’s Evans, Martin, Ansley and Pearne-Webb were all in the England starting lineup. Emily Defroand and Hunter both came on as fourth minute substitutes with Petter following in the sixth minute.