Belgium celebrate their Day 1 win against Russia
(Photo: FIH / Stanislas Brochier)
In the first round of matches at the Athlon Car Lease FIH Road to London event in Belgium, Spain defeated Mexico 7-0, Ireland pushed past France 5-1 and Belgium wrestled down Russia 4-0.
The opening match in Kontich pitted David against Goliath today, as Mexico took on the tournament's top seed Spain, ranked 19 places above them in the world, in cool but sunny weather.
The only non-European team in the competition, and by far the least experienced, the Mexican team put up a good fight, holding their Goliath until the 21st minute, when Rocio Ybarra hit a direct penalty corner hard into the board. Five minutes later, Carlota Petchamé upped the ante with a penalty corner deflection, and piled on her second of the day with a field goal less than two minutes later.
The teams thus went into the break at 3-0 for Spain, and it looked like the tournament favorites were going to run away with the match, as they came out blazing into the second half, scoring no two minutes after the re-start. Mexico regrouped nicely however, and went on to hold the overpowering Spanish, who ran rolling waves of attack, until 5 minutes from the end.
Finally caving in exhausted, the Mexican team conceded another 3 goals in the last five minutes however, as a goal from Berta Bonastre and two from Barbara Malda completed a 7-0 final score line in Spain's big opening win despite a performance that was not yet 100% smooth.
In the second match of the day, France gave Ireland a good fright in their bid for an Olympic ticket when Gwenaelle Dutel slipped one past the Irish defense for an early lead.
Unimpressed, the Girls in Green didn't let the minor setback faze them and turned out a steady performance over the remaining 57 minutes to record a clear win with 5 goals from 5 different players.
Captain Alex Speers, Audrey O'Flynn, Aine Connery, Lisa Jacob and Michelle Harvey scored at a steady pace between the 20th and 47th minute to reach the final scoreline. The remaining 23 minutes saw some attacking from France, but no more goals were scored at either end.
In the final match of the day, the Belgian hosts faced a gritty Russian squad fighting them every inch of the way as temperatures dropped sharply and fog moved in. Despite the inhospitable conditions, the stadium was well-filled with close to 2000 enthusiastic supporters who went on to see their team win in an eventually convincing manner.
But to start off with, the many spectators were on the edge of their seats for the better part of the first half as the home team struggled to find a good rhythm against their Russian opponents, and failed to make their opportunities count until Sofie Gierts took a big weight of everyone's shoulders by slipping a ball over the line with a minute to go in the first half.
In the second half, Belgium increasingly took charge of the match, adding 3 goals as the Russian resistance slowly weakened in the face of constant pressure from a vibrant and energetic Belgian team. Emilie Sinia, Stephanie de Groof and Jill Boon were the scorers for the 3 second half goals of the home team, for a 4-0 win.
Spain thus lead the table at the end of Day 1 on goal difference, ahead of Ireland and Belgium, all on three points, with France, Russia and Mexico yet without points.
Tomorrow Saturday sees Spain face France, Ireland take on Russia, and Mexico challenge the Belgian hosts at the Athlon Car Lease FIH Road to London in Kontich.