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GU14 Eagles 4 – 1 MOP (A, Easter Tour 2024)

5th April 2024

By Mark Rogers

One of the great things about international fixtures is the chance to play in the greatest sporting venues across the world. Drawn against Hockey Club MOP in the first leg of their European campaign, the Eagles relished the chance to move away from large urban stadia and into the Dutch countryside.

Set amongst windmills, canals and fields of tulips, and with families picnicking with beer and bratwurst on banks of grass overlooking the pitch, there was a festival atmosphere as the South London stars took on the best of South Brabant on a warm spring evening. The stage was set for something special as the players followed the umpires out of the tunnel in parallel columns, like soldiers in the trooping of the colour, against a backdrop of red and green smoke representing the club’s colours.

Recognising that their standard preparation to a domestic game could fail to translate into success across the North Sea, the Eagles turned the English rule book on its head by having no sleep and eating match teas twenty minutes before the whistle. The continental approach clearly worked with the revved-up Eagles flying out of the blocks, and resolving to add pre-match monster burgers to the match day ritual moving forwards.

The passing was crisp and immaculate, as new signings Charley and Rebecca moved the ball up the right flank onto Leyli, running hard and attacking the Dutch goal on the first attack. That explosive sortie into the opponents D set the tone for the match, catching the fans’ immediate attention and diverting them from their gouda and stroopwafels as the prospect of watching the next generation’s international sensations became evident.

It wasn’t long before the Eagles took the lead through a well worked move out of the back and along the left flank. Freya led the charge, with a perfectly paced pass setting Romaine on a galloping run forward, linking to a poised Leyli at the top of the opponent’s D. Back to the goal, the striker swung a sharp pass to her left and into the path of the oncoming Natalia, and the Eagles’ record scorer timed her moment perfectly, cracking an unstoppable thumper into the bottom right corner past the outstretched leg of the flailing keeper.

As if it was even possible the crowd became even more engaged, waving flags, beating drums and honking horns as they cheered on the players. The matchplay was breathtaking with fast running and even faster passing as the two teams threw everything at the game – possibly the best that the Eagles had played all season. The Dutch masters worked hard and took their own chances, with some fine stopping from Lexi keeping the Eagles’ ahead. As the ball moved from end to end, goals were exchanged – with Leyli snaring one for the Eagles – as the visitors went into half-time with a deserved 2-1 lead.

The second half brought no change in tempo as the home side strove for an equaliser, with Ellie, Maeve and Elsa all keeping the attackers at bay on the Eagles’ left flank. As the ball moved across the back line, Emily and Bella relieved the pressure with some powerful aerials dispatching the ball back into MOP’s half.

A further goal never felt far away and it fell to the Eagles, with the ever industrious Erin’s accurate pass from the centre of midfield, unleashing a free flowing Freya to take the ball into the D and around the keeper. It was a sublime piece of play and had sections of the crowd gasping “Who was that?”

The visitors sealed the win in the final stages from a penalty corner. Leyli was the first to react to Natalia’s limb-breaking shot on the unfortunate defender’s foot, lifting the ball over the stranded goalie for Bella to poke the ball across the line.

It was a 4-1 win to the Eagles, their first on European soil, and they secured the bonus point from a successful shuffle shootout, with Freya, Maeve and Romaine all scoring and Lexi removing any sense of jeopardy by saving every one of the opponent’s efforts. As Romaine and Leyli led the satiated fans through a rendition of Sweet Caroline, it was a fitting end to a contest full of drama and an international night to remember.