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Hockeyroos maintain perfect World Cup start, favourites to advance to quarter-finals

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The Hockeyroos have forged their way to the top of Group D at the Hockey Women’s World Cup after a 90-second blitz that saw them score twice to defeat Belgium 2-0. 

In a match played at Spain’s Estadi Olimpic de Terrassa, Greta Hayes (39th minute) scored her maiden international goal midway through the third quarter, before Rebecca Greiner (40th minute) capitalised to double the advantage in a decisive period of play.

The Hockeyroos are now favourites to advance to the quarter-finals, an impressive feat for a team that has played just four internationals since the start of the year and leading into the tournament.

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Australia sit in Pool D alongside Belgium, Japan and South Africa, with Japan and South Africa yet to win a game, and Belgium on one win. 

The top team from each pool qualifies automatically for the quarter-finals.

Against Belgium — who had twice as many shots on goal — Australia performed outstandingly in defence, especially in the pressure-cooker first half. 

The Belgians’ confidence was high after a 4-1 win over South Africa and the match started at a frenetic pace, with the Hockeyroos’ European opponents looking more settled. 

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But, led by the reliable Karri Somerville and Penny Squibb, the Hockeyroos’ defence held firm, with goalkeeper Aleisha Power forced to make a save from a penalty corner just before quarter time with the scores tied 0-0.

Head Coach Katrina Powell implored her team to be stronger in the contest in the second half and the Hockeyroos heeded the call.

Jocelyn Bartram came on to replace Power in the second half and was forced into a sharp save to keep Belgium at bay.

But a green card to Belgium’s Pauline Leclef in the 38th minute would prove pivotal as the Hockeyroos took full advantage of the extra player.

Sensing the moment, Jane Claxton sent a searching ball into the attacking circle.

Hayes initially jumped over the ball to let it run, causing chaos for the Belgian defence, before reacting fastest to score her maiden international goal.

The Hockeyroos weren’t finished, however, with Kaitlin Nobbs firing another circle entry down the middle.

Grace Stewart then deflected the ball into the post, with Greiner perfectly positioned to put in the rebound with a reverse shot.

With a 2-0 lead, the Hockeyroos were again forced to defend bravely, with just a Squibb stick on the goal line preventing Belgium from clawing a goal back from a penalty corner.

Stephanie Kershaw was named the Player of the Match for her efforts both defensively and with possession.

Speaking after the match, Hayes said the Hockeryoos knew the match-up with Belgium was a “must-win”.

“We’re very excited to get the win [because] we knew there was a lot of pressure coming into the match,” she said.

“In the first half Belgium really put us under a lot of pressure, but at half-time we came in and knew we just needed to keep on running hard, keep on sticking to our process, and we came out in the second half and did that.”

The Hockeyroos play one more group stage match, against South Africa, at the same venue, on Thursday, July 7 at 5:30am AEST (9:30pm local time).

Every match of the 2022 Women’s World Cup is screened live on Foxtel and Kayo.

ABC Sport

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