Belgium celebrates its first-ever berth to the Olympics
Belgium celebrates its first-ever berth to the Olympics
(Photo: Stanislas Brochier)

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. The 16th-ranked Belgians came into the event as the third seeded team and become the first non-top seed to win an Olympic Qualification tournament.

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.

 

Third Place Game: Spain 5, Russia 1

Spain earned a bit of redemption from an otherwise disappointing Road to London Tournament with a 5-1 win against Russia in the third-place game. Spain entered the tournament as the top seed, ranked 11th in the FIH World Ranking, while Russia’s fourth-place finish is on par with their initial seeding at the event.

Spain dominated the entire game, but much like throughout the rest of the tournament, they could not finish on many of their chances. It took until the 29th minute of the first half for Gloria Comerma to put in the 1-0 goal on a penalty corner. Spain’s Julia Menendez made it 2-0 three minutes before the half, but the damage should have been much worse as Spain had at least 15 solid scoring chances.

Spain again took its time adding to tally in the second half, adding the 3-0 goal with about 19 minutes left in regulation after a video review confirmed that Carlota Petchame’s deflected goal was allowed. The teams exchanged rapid fire goals with Ksenia Shamina putting in the lone Russian marker of the game to make it a 4-1 game. Beatriz Perez from Spain put in a late goal to bring the final to 5-1.

 

Fifth Place Game: France 5, Mexico 1

Thanks to an eruption of offense in the last 10 minutes of regulation, France ran away with fifth-place at the Athlon Car Lease FIH Road to London tournament with a 5-1 win against Mexico.

The score was tied at one at the half with Apoline Rogeau putting France on the board six minutes into action and Michel Navarro scoring the equalizer from Mexico. It looked like the game could head to overtime with the 1-1 tie enduring through most of the second half.

France upped the tempo with about 15 minutes left and the clearly exhausted Mexican team simply couldn’t keep pace. The French finally tapped in the eventual game winner with 12 minutes left on the clock and a pair of goals from Gwenaelle Dutel less than three minutes apart put any hopes Mexico had of a comeback out of reach. France scored the icing on the cake 5-1 goal in the last two minutes to bring the final to 5-1.

Both France and Mexico end the tournament where they started. France, the #25 team in the FIH World Ranking, was the fifth seed entering the qualifier and Mexico was the lowest seeded team at #30 in the ranking.

 

Editor’s Note: With the Japan qualifier still on the agenda for the women and teams ranked as high as #9 playing in that event, the FIH is unable to publish the women’s London Olympic groups until the conclusion of the Olympic Qualification Tournament in Japan on May 5. The groups for the London Games are allotted according the FIH World Ranking position of the teams.