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Team GB defeat Belgium in London
BELGIUM 0 (0)
GREAT BRITAIN 3 (1)
Ashleigh Ball 33' (F)
Laura Bartlett 40' (F)
Crista Cullen 69' (PC)
Great Britain's women brushed aside Belgium in their third game at the Riverbank Arena tonight. Two goals either side of half-time by Slough's Ashleigh Ball and Reading's Laura Bartlett and a last minute penalty corner from Leicester's Crista Cullen gave Great Britain a comfortable 3-0 win against the side ranked sixteenth in the world.
This evening's victory means the home nation now top the Pool A standings after three wins from three matches. A win or draw for Great Britain in their next match against China on Saturday will guarantee qualification for the semi-finals and the prospect of playing a medal match.
Despite the win, Great Britain Head Coach Danny Kerry indicated there is room for improvement, "We were nowhere near where we need to be in terms of executions for the amount of possession we had. We should have done more with that. That's understandable given the nature of having to jig things a little bit with missing Kate. That's two wins without one of the world's best players and playing with 15 [players].
"I've learnt through the years that it's not going to be brilliant hockey all the time. Sometimes you just find a way to win. Belgium have probably been the fastest improving side in international hockey over the past couple of years under Pascal [Kina, Coach]. Their draw with China was testimony to that."
The evening was made even more special with the return of Captain Kate Walsh who watched her team from the bench following successful surgery on a fractured mandible. Commenting on Walsh's progress, Kerry said, "We'll fitness test her and look at toleration of pain because that goes up through the body. We need to look at that. If she comes through that we'll put a stick in her hand and play the ball towards Kate. We'll make her start to slap the ball and then we'll make her try to tackle. And if she comes through those things in a positive way there's a possibility she might [play against China] but at the moment it's very difficult to say, it really is."
With Reading's Helen Richardson leading Great Britain out for a second match in a row, the women were hoping to make it three wins out of three and climb to the top of pool A. Their opponents, Belgium, were a relatively unknown force, as GB had only previously faced the side once, in 1978.
Great Britain started well with Reading's Alex Danson looking lively, having recovered from her knock in the previous match. She danced her way through the defence and fired a reverse stick shot over the bar in the opening five minutes, giving an early warning to the Belgians. GB were pressing high in the final third and closing their opponents down, but the Belgium goalkeeper Aisling D'Hooghe was going to be hard to beat, having only conceded three goals in her previous two matches.
Slough's Nicola White had the best chance in the opening twenty minutes when she found herself one on one with D'Hooghe. However, the goalkeeper was out quickly and smothered the ball before White had time to get her shot away. Great Britain started to create more attacking chances as the half went on. Sarah Thomas made a forceful run into the circle but some brave defending from the Belgian's meant the shot at goal came to nothing.
Finally, Great Britain's patience and determination was rewarded with a goal in the 33rd minute from Slough's Ashleigh Ball. Sarah Thomas' initial strike from the top of the circle was saved, but only as far as Leicester's Chloe Rogers. From the base line Rogers' pulled the ball back into the danger zone to find Ball who finished well under pressure from a few yards out to make it 1-0. That was the last piece of action in the first half and Great Britain went into the break with a goal advantage.
Great Britain came out quickly in the second half and doubled their lead in the 40th minute. Leicester's Hannah Macleod sent a well-disguised pass to Reading's Laura Bartlett, who turned on a sixpence and slotted the ball away on her reverse side to put her side two goals up. Within seconds of the re-start, the Belgians were down at the other end of the pitch, attacking GB's goal. In her 40th appearance for Great Britain, Reading's Beth Storry pulled off a strong save, having had little to do up until that point.
Great Britain had picked up the intensity and moved the ball around with purpose. The forwards and midfield were linking together well and Leicester teammates Crista Cullen and Anne Panter were distributing the ball effectively from defence. However, a rare mistake in the 61st minute from Loughborough Students' Laura Unsworth gave GB a slight scare when she lost possession in the final third. Resultantly, the Belgians had a powerful strike at goal, but fortunately Storry was on hand to clear comfortably.
The packed Riverbank Arena was in full voice throughout the match and were urging Great Britain to get a third goal in the final ten minutes. Their wish was granted when two minutes from time GB were awarded their second penalty corner of the match for a foul on Ball. Cullen stepped up and drilled one of her trademark drag flicks, low into the bottom right hand corner, giving the flailing D'Hooghe no chance. With only a minute left, the final score remained at 3 - 0 and GB managed to keep their second clean sheet of the tournament.
Commenting on the win, Great Britain goal-scorer Laura Bartlett said after the match, "It's what we've been aiming for. We've been getting a lot of goals. Confidence is high within the squad. We knew this game was going to be really difficult and it was going to be hard to break Belgium down. We wanted to win with a lot of energy within our press and counter attack really quickly. They were hard to break down but our fitness levels were there and eventually we did and Ash's [Ashleigh Ball] goal injected that extra bit of energy. We knew we just had to be patient and not give up and not force passes and turn over easy ball."
The women's penultimate pool match is against China on Saturday 4th August at 16.00, where a draw will be enough to send Great Britain through to the semi-finals.