The Netherlands have been crowned winners of the inaugural FIH Pro League thanks to a shoot-out victory over Australia, triumphing in a thrilling final played in glorious sunshine at the Wagener Stadium in Amsterdam on Saturday 29 June 2019. A breathtaking contest saw the match finish with the scores locked together at 2-2, before the Netherlands emerged 4-3 winners in the one-on-ones to defeat an Australia team that pushed them every step of the way in front of a sell-out crowd.
Australia silenced the home fans when Mariah Williams scored from a penalty corner in the 19th minute before Marijn Veen pulled the Dutch level four minutes later. Kelly Jonker’s fourth quarter strike put the hosts ahead in the fourth quarter, but a late penalty stroke was clinically dispatched by Kaitlin Nobbs to send the match into a shoot-out. With the score locked at 3-3 after four attempts each, a disallowed goal from Australia’s Brooke Peris allowed Lauren Stam to wrap up the victory as the Oranje added the FIH Pro League to their world and European titles.
As well as the lifting the trophy, the Netherlands also saw one of their players collect an individual award, with Frederique Matla named as the Best Player of the FIH Pro League. Australia’s Rachael Lynch was named Deloitte Goalkeeper of the Grand Final, while Argentina’s Micaela Retegui took the Auping Best Goal of the FIH Pro League Grand Final thanks to her brilliant strike against Germany in the 3-4 play-off. New Zealand’s Olivia Merry was also confirmed as the overall top scorer in the FIH Pro League, with her sensational 15 goal tally proving too much for the chasing pack who were competing here at in Amsterdam. It was also an extra special day for Lidewij Welten, who was a trophy winner on 200th international appearance.
Following the completion of the women’s FIH Pro League, the FIH World Rankings have been updated. The next rankings update will take place on 8 September 2019, following the completion of the Continental Championships.
In the title match, Australia (FIH World Ranking: 3) were forced to soak up huge amounts of pressure from the Netherlands (WR:1) in the opening quarter, with goalkeeper Rachael Lynch making numerous crucial blocks to keep the hosts at bay. Laurien Leurink came the closest with a backhand strike that Lynch could only parry, but the Australian shot-stopper produced a remarkable save by spinning around and brilliantly clearing the ball off the goal-line with an instinctive swing of her stick.
The huge crowd watching on were being thoroughly entertained by the home favourites, but they fell silent four minutes into the second quarter when the Hockeyroos scored a perfectly executed penalty corner routine, with Mariah Williams brilliantly touching home a low flick from Jodie Kenny which left Dutch goalkeeper Josine Koning stranded. However, the home fans were cheering once again when Marijn Veen powered into the circle from the right and levelled the scores with a fierce strike, beating Lynch at her near post to restore parity.
The Netherlands dominated the closing stages of the second quarter but both teams had massive chances in the third period, with Australia – the only team to have beaten the Netherlands in this year’s FIH Pro League – showing no fear against the world champions ahead of an extraordinary final quarter.
Laurien Leurink appeared to put the hosts ahead just one minute after the break, only to see her goal ruled out by an Australian appeal to the video umpire. There was no doubt about Kelly Jonker’s goal three minutes later, with the striker guiding an angled deflection into the roof of the net after a perfect pass from Player of the Match Eva de Goede. Just when it seemed that a Netherlands victory was a certainty, a goal-bound penalty corner drag-flick from Jodie Kenny hit the foot of a Netherlands defender, with a penalty stroke being awarded. Kaitlin Nobbs made no mistake from the spot, firing home to send the match into a shoot-out.
With only one miss apiece from the two teams from the first eight shoot-out efforts, the match was effectively at sudden-death going into the final round. Australia’s Brooke Peris found the target but a video referral deemed her shot illegal, with Lauren Stam showing the coolest of heads to give the Netherlands a dramatic and hard-earned victory.
“It was amazing, it was a tough match with the shoot-outs but I’m so proud we got the win”, said Netherlands ace Xan de Waard. “It’s the first FIH Pro League ever, so I think that is amazing. We’ve had so much fun, so to end it like this is amazing.”
Australia’s Jane Claxton said: “The Dutch are a force to be reckoned with, and we knew that coming into this game. But we’ve got a lot of fire in our bellies now and it’s really good to have that coming into an Olympic year, so I’m really proud of the girls.”
Earlier in the day, Germany (WR:5) claimed a shoot-out victory over Argentina (WR:4) to claim a third place finish in the FIH Pro League after the match finished 1-1 in searing temperatures at the Wagener Stadium.
Argentina took the lead thanks to a wonderful improvised shot from Micaela Retegui, who squeezed the ball through her own legs to find the bottom left corner of the goal moments after a mazy run from Victoria Granatto. Retegui’s terrific finish – later named best goal of the FIH Pro League Grand Final – was the only goal of the first two quarters, but Germany hit back early in the third period when Anne Schröder volleyed home from close range. Germany probably had the better of the quarter, but Argentina – who lost Micaela Rebecchi to a head injury – rallied hard in the latter stages but the two teams remained locked at 1-1 to trigger a shoot-out.
The opening four efforts in the one-on-ones were missed before Germany took control, with Janne Müller-Wieland, Pia Maertens and Viktoria Huse all on target as Die Danas triumphed in 3-1 in the shoot-out.
We are really excited”, said Germany captain Janne Müller-Wieland. “They are such a strong side to play against, and such a tough game and in such heat, it was really tough to play in it. But I’m very proud of the girls, such a great reward for a very long Pro League. It’s incredible – we didn’t think of achieving this at the start of the Pro League, so getting a medal is great and that gives us a lot of confidence for the Europeans and for whatever it to follow.”
Despite defeat, it was a proud day for Argentina legend Carla Rebecchi, who made her 300th appearance for Las Leonas. “It is an honour to play for my country, wearing this shirt”, said Rebecchi. “I’m really happy to play my 300th game.”
On Sunday 30 June, the winner of the inaugural men’s FIH Pro League competition will be decided. The two highest ranked men’s teams in world hockey will contest the title match in the inaugural FIH Pro League, with world champions Belgium set to take on in-form Australia in Sunday’s event final following two thrilling semi-final matches at Amsterdam’s Wagener Stadium on Friday (28 June). The Netherlands and Great Britain will play in Sunday’s 3-4 play-off match at 1430 Central European Summer Time (CEST – UTC/GMT+2), with the final between the Kookaburras and the Red Lions getting underway at 17:00.