Belgium took on Spain in what was a mini final, the two best teams of the group stages taking one another on. The permutations meant a draw was enough for Belgium to make the semi finals, where as Spain needed a win.
It was a fairly even affair for the opening half with both teams creating chances, Spain probably having the better of it in terms of the penetrations they made but neither team could really fashion anything of note.
Controvery erupted in the 34th minute when Spain broke into the Belgian circle. A lob over Aisling D’Hoogie was parried by the keeper, but she couldn’t clear it over the back line. As the ball fell down toward the goal Carlota Pecheme challenged for the ball. It appeared the ball had not crossed the line but the goal was initially given. The umpire referred the goal herself for review. On the big screen the players could see the ball had not crossed the line and the Spanish did not retreat to their half, seemingly conceding it was not a goal. To the surprise of everyone it stood though. It’s worth remembering the video umpire has additional angles that the public don’t see.
Within minutes controversy surfaced again. This time a Belgian attacking penalty corner fell to a striker with the goal gaping. Unfortunately the umpire blew a penalty corner and immediately apologised for the fast whistle. A replay was shown on the big screen and Spain referred the decision for a back stick. Jill Boon, the Belgian captain, immediately reminded the umpire that they could not refer if it had been on the big screen but the referral stood and the corner was over turned.
The remainder of the half saw Belgium ploughing on but making a series of unforced errors; kicks, miss traps and stray passes. The pressure clearly too much and the Spanish only rose to the occasion.
As time worse on the Spanish were taking to the floor after every collision but were ok after the whistle had gone. The home support understandably irked that this kept happening without challenge.
Ultimately a literal fair result was a draw, with the Spanish goal chalked off unless other angles proved it did indeed cross the line. However the Spanish were on fine form, rarely making a mistake in possession and keeping their heads as the game went on. This is a Spanish team with little financial support ahead of Toyko and one that has developed very well physically, only second perhaps to the Netherlands in terms of fitness. The technique on show was exceptional, the basics of the game were nearly perfect and the mental side of the highest order.
Belgium will feel hard done by. Three clear umpire errors, two in this game and one in the Netherlands match, has seen them finish third in the group instead of first. But it is unlikely to be the end of the story for the Red Panthers. Meanwhile the World Cup bronze medalists, Spain, go from strength to strength and will now be favourites in many eyes.