Reigning women’s Olympic, World and European champions the Netherlands got their FIH Hockey Pro League title defence off to a solid start, defeating neighbouring Belgium 2-0 in the competition curtain raiser in front of a big crowd at Amsterdam’s magnificent Wagener Stadium.
The Oranje – who were presented with their trophy for winning the 2020-21 FIH Hockey Pro League season ahead of the contest – made a sensational start to the new season when star attacker Lidewij Welten crashed home a fierce open play strike after just 17 seconds of the contest, thrilling the home fans who had flocked to see their national team for the first time since winning gold at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in August.
Belgium’s Red Panthers recovered well from that early blow and made life difficult for their illustrious opponents, with large spells of the game taking place in midfield as the two lowland nations battled for possession and superiority. It was certainly scrappy at times, with both sides guilty of unforced errors.
While goal-scoring opportunities were few and far between, a 1-0 score-line meant that Belgium – coached by Dutchman Raoul Ehren, an individual with a near peerless club coaching record in the Netherlands and who had guided the Red Panthers to European bronze in this very stadium earlier this year – were always in with a chance of taking something away from this clash.
However, that all changed nine minutes from time when Freeke Moes burst through the Belgian defensive line and past the goalkeeper before firing home from an acute angle, much to the delight of the home fans. It was a goal that wrapped up all three points for the home favourites, giving the double Pro League champions the start that they would have wanted as they bid to secure a hat-trick of titles.
“It was amazing, the public here and playing with the Olympians in the team,” said Netherlands debutant Marente Barentsen, who was named Player of the Match. “I was a bit nervous, but after the first quarter it got a bit better and I forgot it was my debut, so tried to keep playing and keep enjoying it.”
On whether she thought it was the start of a new era, Barentsen said: “I hope so. I wanted to make a good impression, which is what I am supposed to do. I hope I did it.”
Reflecting on the result and conceding so early in the contest, Belgium’s Stephanie Vanden Borre said: “We were not as awake as we should have been. The first thing we thought was, now we have to wake up. We know they are the best in the world so we were ready to fight and do what we want to do. We want to play better every game. I think after the first 15 seconds, we had a good game.”
Season 3 of the FIH Hockey Pro League continues this coming weekend as Belgium’s international teams welcome Germany to Brussels for double headers on Saturday and Sunday.
FIH Hockey Pro League
Wednesday 13 October 2021 – Amstelveen (NED)
Netherlands 2, Belgium 0 [Match 1 of 2]
Player of the Match: Marente Barentsen (NED)
Umpires: Celine Martin-Schmets (BEL), Hannah Harrison (ENG) and Coen van Bunge (NED)