England’s women progressed to the semi finals of the EuroHockey Championships with a narrow victory over an extremely plucky Belarus side.
England were below par but got the job done in Antwerp and will now play in Friday’s semi finals.
Lily Owsley opened the scoring before Izzy Petter got her first England goal, but Belarus fought back to draw level at 2-2. Laura Unsworth extended England’s lead but again Belarus struck back, only for Hannah Martin to score the winner on 56 minutes.
Having picked up a win over Ireland and a draw with Germany in their previous games, England had done the bulk of their work before today’s match and battled to another three points in Antwerp.
With either Netherlands, Spain or hosts Belgium awaiting on Friday, they will be looking to raise their game as they face higher-ranked opponents in the knockout phase.
England captain Hollie Pearne-Webb said, “They were much better today than they had been in the previous games so we’ll give them credit for that. We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game today, we knew they were going to be very different opposition compared to those we’ve played in the past and we knew it would be a fight – but we made it a lot more difficult for ourselves.
“Our basics weren’t on it. We’d put in a bobbly pass or put it where we didn’t want it and they were really pushed out on us which made it difficult. We need to look at that, our tempo and try and insert our game on an opposition when it’s a very different style of play. The positive from today was that we got the win, got through to the semis. Stage one of the tournament is now done for us and we will review that game going into the semi final.
“Now we’ll look back to the first half of the Germany game and want to replicate something like that. As a team we know we’ve got a good performance and a step up in us. Whoever we draw in the semi-finals we know it’s going to be a really, really tough game. It’s really important we stick to our game plan, stay really calm and know we’re always in it. We’re really looking forward to the semi finals now.”
Inside the first few moments it was Belarus who should have taken the lead, Krestsina Papkova hitting the post after excellent work from Sviatlana Bahushevich. Having not scored in the tournament so far, they were inches away from opening the scoring but could only hit the upright from close range.
Without being totally fluid, England then began to settle and Lily Owsley turned home the loose ball from their first penalty corner of the game. Then right at the end of the quarter 19-year-old Izzy Petter got her very first England goal with a neat finish from Hannah Martin’s pass.
Belarus were maintaining a foothold in the game, and Karyna Syddykava scored her nation’s first goal in the tournament with a very well-struck penalty corner down to Maddie Hinch’s left.
To Belarus’ great credit, they took advantage of significant space in England’s final third and drew level thanks to a well-hit effort from captain Nastassia Syrayezhka. But the lead did not last long, Laura Unsworth turning home a rebound from a corner just a minute after the Belarussian equaliser. Soon afterwards Martin hit the outside of the post with a deflection from an Ansley corner.
Papkova again came close to scoring with a neat touch but was denied by Hinch. Down the other end Owsley drove forwards well and found Petter but the forward’s effort was off target.
In the final quarter Belarus continued to pose a threat, and scored an excellent equaliser, breaking away from an England corner; Natalia Shtsin producing a very good diving finish.England were shocked into life and Martin scored neatly from a Sarah Evans pass to restore England’s lead with four minutes remaining.
Upon the final whistle there was a sense of relief from the England camp, who got the job done but will have wanted more from their performance. Credit must go to Belarus, who should take great heart from their display. With higher-ranked opponents up next in the semi-final, England will be looking for an improved performance as the tournament becomes even more competitive.
Owsley (10′, PC)
Petter (15′, FG)
Unsworth (23, PC)
Martin (56′, FG)
Syddykava (16′, PC)
Syrayezhka (22′, FG)
Shtsin (53′, FG)
England: Hinch (GK), Unsworth, Toman, Ansley, Pearne-Webb (C), McCallin, Evans, Rayer, Owsley, Martin, Howard
Subs (used): Defroand, Petty, Townsend, Hunter, Balsdon, Petter
Sub (unused): Tennant (GK)