(Photo: Stanislas Brochier)
Day 2 at the Athlon Car Lease FIH Road to London event in Kontich saw Spain defeat France 2-1, Ireland slip past Russia 3-0, and Belgium record the event's highest scoreline so far in a 12-0 win against Mexico.
The day started off with dark grey skies seemingly promising imminent rain, as Spain and France took to the field to kick off the second round of matches.
Spain put pressure on from the very start, but struggled to take advantage of the opportunities they had. Finally, a ball from the right found Bea Pérez at the post to tip it in for the lead in the 22nd minute, but the French team were determined to get more out of today's match than yesterday's, and Gwenaelle Dutel made good use of an error in the Spanish defense to level the scores only three minutes later. Shortly before the break, Barbara Malda got the Spanish ahead again, tapping a long pass over the line for the 2-1 halftime lead.
In the second 35 minutes, Spain stayed the stronger side, but couldn't pull away, remaining within reach of the dreaded equalizer goal despite a number of opportunities, including a total of 9 penalty corners in today's game, not one of which yielded a goal.
By the skin of their teeth, Spain held on to their advantage until the final whistle however, securing another three points in the race for the tournament final, but the highest ranked team in the competition will have to step their game up significantly against the other two strong contenders in this event, Ireland and Belgium, to bag the elusive ticket to London.
The second encounter pitted another of the tournament favorites, the Irish team, against Russia. Despite the skies clearing up a little, it was still windy and chilly as the action kicked off.
In a slow first half, Ireland dominated play in first half, pushing play back deep into the Russian half for long stretches of time, and confining their opponents to the occasional counter-attack. It wasn't until the 21st minute that Michelle Harvey released the tension for her team mates and the numerous Irish fans by putting away a penalty corner, and Audrey O'Flynn doubled the stakes withe a minute to go in the first half.
Minutes after the re-start, it was Audrey O'Flynn again who sunk yet another penalty corner to give her team a three goal lead, and that was all the scoring for the day. Fifteen minutes into the second half, the dreaded rain finally started, making an inhospitable day worse, and the game scrappy, confined for long stretches of time to petty back and forth without any danger at either end.
The Girls in Green were able to force a handful further opportunities to score, but nothing came of them, and the match finally ended 3-0, moving Ireland onto six points just like Spain.
Rounding up Day 2, the Belgian Panthers faced Mexico, another uneven pairing for the Mexican side after yesterday's 0-7 defeat at the hands of Spain. And the Belgian hosts hosts took charge early in the game, never looking back, and were the superior team for the biggest part of the 70 minutes.
Jill Boon, Erica Coppey and Charlotte de Vos scored for the Panthers in the first half for a 3-0 lead at the break, but things really took off in the second half, when Belgium dominated play practically at will, rarely even permitting Mexico into their half of the field.
Scoring at a steady pace, Belgium took the scoreline to double digits as their Mexican opponents were increasingly slowed down by the exertion of playing at this unfamiliar level in freezing cold weather. The Panthers completed the dozen before the whistle ended a true goalfest that sees the home team take the lead in the table at the end of Day 2.
Tomorrow Monday is a rest day here in Belgium, while the next round of matches on Tuesday sees Mexico face Ireland and Russia take on France. The day ends with the encounter between Belgium and Spain in a match that could well be vital in the fight for a place in the tournament final.