EuroHockey: England 0 Belgium 2
PUBLISHED: 19:38 18 August 2019 | UPDATED: 19:38 18 August 2019
Having been forced to settle with a 2-2 draw with Wales in their opening match of the EuroHockey Championships, England put in a much-improved performance to push hosts Belgium hard.
Though they tested 'keeper Vincent Vanasch throughout, England were unable to find the back of the net as Belgium produced two stunning finishes to take victory.
Ian Sloan won his 50th England cap in a performance the team will certain take positives from as they go into their final match of the group stages against Spain on Tuesday afternoon.
Having seen Belgium put Spain to the sword with a 5-0 victory in their opening match of the tournament, England began the game well organised and disciplined to keep the hosts at bay.
It was an opening quarter full of entertainment as both sides went toe to toe with some superb passes and runs on show as the two teams looked to get on the attack.
England earned the first penalty corner of the game which was well defended as Sam Ward's drive was well charged down by the defence.
Though England had started well and had matched Belgium throughout, a moment of quality from the reigning world champions ensured they would take the lead seconds before the conclusion of the first quarter.
Having had a shot on goal denied by Harry Gibson, Belgium profited from a penalty corner as Tom Boon showed superb skill by stroking the ball into the corner of the net as it rebounded from the initial flick.
Looking for a response, good wide play from Hampstead & Westminster's Will Calnan saw the ball fall dangerously into Zach Wallace in the D, however, the midfielder could only fire his shot straight at Vanasch in the Belgium goal.
Belgium were starting to click in attack and creating chances as Thomas Briels pressed high and nicked the ball inside the circle, but his resulting shot was blazed high and wide when bearing down on goal.
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England were well in the match though and Ward's scorching drag flick was again denied by Vanasch to see Belgium into the half-time break with a one-goal advantage.
Immediately after the restart England broke forwards with Calnan again feeding Wallace into the D, this time a last-ditch tackle from Emmanuel Stockbroekx knocking the ball out of play before Wallace could pull the trigger.
A minute later and England were in on goal again, this time the ball driven across the face of goal narrowly evading the diving James Gall from prodding home from close range.
England were well in the ascendancy and were only denied an equaliser from a penalty corner by a spectacular diving save from Vanasch to keep out Ashley Jackson's rocket of a drag flick that looked destined to find the bottom corner.
As the second half went on England continued to look the more likely to find the next goal and came within inches of restoring parity as Jackson's drag flick was deflected onto the crossbar by a sliding Harry Martin.
With less than 15 minutes remaining Belgium showed more flashes of their brilliance as Gibson was forced into making an impressive save with the glove from a drag flick.
The team demonstrated their class with the finishing blow shortly after, Alexander Hendrickx rifling his drag flick beyond Gibson into the goal for an insurmountable 2-0 lead.
England head coach Danny Kerry said: "Like yesterday, we prepared well. I'd need to check the performance stats but I felt we generated good opportunities and held Belgium with good intelligence.
"The lads and staff should be proud of the performance and continue to push the detail. Now we reset for Spain on Tuesday."
England's final, decisive match in Pool A comes against Spain on Tuesday at 12.30pm BST where the team will know that only victory will be enough to give them a chance at making it through to the knockout stages.
England: Gibson, Ames, Jackson, Martin, Griffiths, Sloan, Ward, Roper, Dixon, Creed, Gall. Subs: Willars, Weir, Waller, Sorsby, Calnan, Wallace. Unused: Pinner.