By Rod Gilmour, Lee Valley
The A-Team theme tune was a constant over the tannoy given the Seoul reunion feel to this Toshiba International. Face was saved for Great Britain through Sam Ward’s two on-hand goals, his 50th international strike, and a welcome win to kick start Danny Kerry’s men’s coaching career.
Florent Van Aubel’s classy strike looked to set Belgium on the path for a mini series win after a 3-2 victory on Tuesday. But Ward, in a brilliant second-half turnaround, was twice on hand when it mattered to instead give Britain some welcome respite ahead of next month’s World Cup.
Despite their 2-1 victory here, this was always going to be a tough task for Great Britain. On Sunday, Ward played his first game of the season – an away trip to City of Peterborough for his new side Old Georgians in the Conference East – and bagged four goals.
On Wednesday night, he came up against the likes of defender Arthur Van Doren, the world player of the year, and one of several stars having already played eight times for their Dutch clubs this season in the world’s best league. Defeat for the ring-rusty hosts would have been understandable.
And while GB had little success in Belgium’s circle in the early forays, the hosts looked a class act moving forwards. The Red Lions had three interchanges forward worthy of their world No 3 status before the opener.
Van Aubel’s goal was a masterclass. Starting from the half-way line, it involved two quick-as-a-flash direct passes into the circle before an unmarked Van Aubel produced a neat stick deflection.
Belgium looked muscular and threatening. George Pinner and Harry Gibson, dovetailing in goal, were forced into parried saves, while Liam Sanford was twice felled by his customary charge downs. Both times he hobbled on before being helped off.
After a soft opening to this friendly international, the first was played out in front of several thousand school children on Tuesday, we saw a different complexion under the lights. Not least when Ward was handed a yellow card for a reactionary elbow on the touchline before the break.
— Great Britain Hockey (@GBHockey) October 3, 2018
Great Britain’s stick riposte came with their first move after the break; Alan Forysth seemed to be forced wide with his back to goal, but his turn and pass found Ward unmarked on the goal line.
Belgium’s first-half tempo seemed to desert them as Britain then found space in midfield. Jack Waller, making his senior international, seemed to be at the heart of them. Meanwhile another bright young thing, Zach Wallace, was named man of the match in only his second senior appearance.
The hosts were showing the flair mustered by first-half Belgium – by now well off the boil but retaining majority possession – with a central break and quick circle ball. But Forsyth’s instinctive flick could only find the boot of Vincent Vanasch late on, with their last meaningful attack.
With Ward and Forsyth up front, Kerry’s men will have every chance to carry on their goal-scoring exploits in India.
After bronze on the Gold Coast, they will be up for the challenge in India. A far different test posed by the chilly October night here against a Belgium side who ultimately froze to gift Kerry the start he wanted and a win to warm the Seoul.