|March 25th, 2012|
|18||4:30pm||BEL - IRL||4 - 1 (3 - 0)||Final|
Final: Belgium 4, Ireland 1
Belgium became the 11th women’s team to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics after powering past Ireland, 4-1, in the Athlon Car Lease FIH Road to London tournament in Antwerp.
In front of a capacity crowd, Sofie Gierts had the game of her life and it came at just the right time as her three goals paced Belgium to the win and sent her team to London. Gierts completed a hat trick in a seven-minute span in the first half put the Irish on their heels with a 3-0 deficit.
Gierts banged in the 1-0 goal in the 12th minute with a solid strike, brining the tense crowd to its feet. Her second goal came on a penalty stroke that she easily looped in, and the 3-0 marker was a textbook penalty corner. It was an emphatic string of offense that gave Belgium an edge that they hung on to the rest of the match.
Ireland had its chances in the game and competed well, but they never really threatened the Belgians, who were simply playing on a different level. Ireland’s lone goal of the game came on a penalty corner from Audrey O’Flynn with 15 minutes left on the clock, but Belgium had an answer to that less than a minute later to reinstate the three-goal lead.
In the end, all Ireland could do was watch as time ran out on their Olympic dream. For Irish fans today’s loss was doubly hard to take after the men also lost in the final of the Road to London tournament exactly one week ago in Dublin.
On the other side on the coin, Belgium hockey supporters can celebrate an incredible double representation in London. The Belgium men’s team qualified for the Games at the European Championships and now the women will join them in London in July.
As icing on the cake for Belgium, Gierts was voted the Top Player of the tournament. Ireland’s O’Flynn was given the Top Goal Scorer award, while Mexican goalkeeper Ahidee Castillo was got the nod as the Top Goalkeeper. Amazingly enough, Castillo split her time playing out of net and in and was also her team’s top goal scorer.
There is still one men’s and one women’s spot open for the London Games. Those will be up for grabs at the final Olympic qualifier, which begins in Japan in late April.