© Hockey Club Luxembourg
Team place 5th from eight in their first international tournament, causing a huge upset along the way.
Field hockey in Europe has enjoyed something of a renaissance over the last few years. Thanks to a combination of large scale investment in developing players and improvements in pitch and equipment technology, not to mention the nearly constant fine-tuning of the playing rules and competition structures, the game today may be almost unrecognisable to someone who last played 20 years ago.
For a relatively small sport there are a surprising number of competitive structures allowing smaller clubs such as Hockey Club Luxembourg to compete on an international level.
The 6th till the 9th of June this year marked the first time a Luxembourgish hockey team have competed in a pan-European competition. The mens first team arrived in Malta for the 2019 Izibet EuroHockey Club Challenge IV after their first season playing in the Belgian divisional hockey league.
The EuroHockey Club Challenge invites the top teams from affiliated European national leagues to a 4 day tournament with four separate tournament levels, IV being the lowest.
Under intense 32 degree heat and very difficult pitch conditions Hockey Club Luxembourg started the tournament against Hungarian side Építők HC. Feeling the effects of the heat and perhaps some nerves from the live-streamed match HCL were slow to start and failed to control the midfield leading to sustained pressure from Építők who managed to use the aerial pass effectively to get behind the HCL defence.
At half time Luxembourg were down 1 - 0 but fighting hard to adapt to the conditions. A second field goal came for Építők just after half time. However, in the 42nd minute Luxembourg pulled back a goal through James Pritchard from a penalty corner which gave the team a confidence boost. Driven forward by explosive mid-field runs by Milan Dans, Luxembourg went on the offensive pushing high into opposition territory but were unable to crack the Építők defence in open play. With Luxembourg throwing everything they had into attack, Építők were able to capitalise and steal two simple goals in the last two minutes of the match leaving a final score of 4 - 1.
The second game of the tournament was against home side Floriana Young Stars. Having watched Floriana play the day before, Luxembourg knew that to win they would have to play to a standard higher than ever before. Led by captain Jarmo Kruse, Luxembourg started the game confidently with a half pitch press and close man marking. Floriana were not able to find a way through the Luxembourg defence and playing the half pitch defence meant that the aerial pass was much better dealt with. Luxembourg were rewarded just before the end of the first quarter with a goal by Milan Dans from an excellently work penalty corner routine.
Knowing the danger that Floriana posed, Luxembourg did not relax and kept a very tidy defensive structure with strong counter-attacks led again by Milan Dans and rising star Leopold Krampe. Luxembourg were able to extend their lead with a stunning penalty corner strike from defender Cedric Verdin just before half time. Any sense of relief from the two goal cushion was promptly removed however when Floriana scored immediately after half time. The remainder of the second half was a gruelling battle with Floriana throwing everything they had at the Luxembourg defence under the scorching Maltese sun. Brilliant saves from Luxembourg keeper Matthew Nunes and a Herculean effort from the rest of the team gave perhaps one of the biggest upsets of the tournament with Luxembourg holding onto a 2 - 1 win.
© Hockey Club Luxembourg
The following day Luxembourg faced Qormi HC, the reigning Maltese champions. Gaining in confidence with every game the Luxembourg team made life very difficult for Qormi, marking tightly and forcing the home side to change their game. Both sides had good chances but at half time the score remained 0 - 0.
Unfortunately for Luxembourg, the deadlock was broken in the 35th minute from a controversial penalty stroke. Luxembourg continued to fight with Ignacio Gomez making inroads to the Qormi defence but the heat, fatigue and frustration at some questionable umpiring decisions seemed to be getting to the touring side. Qormi extended their lead from a penalty corner int he 45th minute only to be swiftly answered by another clinical penalty corner finish by Milan Dans. Luxembourg pushed hard in the last quarter displaying a great deal of passion and determination but were unable to score leading to a heart-breaking 2-1 defeat.
With barely 12 hours since their last game, a tired but proud Luxembourg team took the field for the last time to face off against Finnish team Seinäjoki United in the match to decide 5th place. Luxembourg took the initiative with some great chances in the first few minutes but Seinäjoki quickly regained their structure and looked dangerous down the left wing and with some testing aerial passes into space behind the Luxembourg defensive line. Luxembourg however were slowly able to increase the pressure on the Finnish side with a higher press and some great distribution from central defender Philipp Jung.
The score remained 0 - 0 at half time but Luxembourg seemed to have the edge having missed a number of good attacking chances. After the break Seinäjoki managed to get a foothold in the midfield and began to look dangerous, driving deep into left hand side of the pitch. The heat and fatigue became more and more of a factor in the fourth quarter and Luxembourg were able to take back control of the game. Luxembourg finally cracked the Finnish defence in the 48th minute with a quick-thinking penalty corner variation giving captain Jarmo Kruse a well earned goal. Milan Dans scored his third goal of the tournament in the 57th minute, again from a penalty corner to close out the game 2 - 0.
Overall, Hockey Club Luxembourg showed themselves to be worthy adversaries and the team was proud of achieving 5th place but it was clear that competing at this and higher levels of hockey requires a level of intensity not yet found inside of the country.
The next challenge for the Hockey Club Luxembourg men’s team will be entering the Belgian National Hockey League, Division 3 this coming season, a standard of hockey that will arguably be even higher than the club has ever experienced before.
Anyone interested in joining or supporting the club is invited to come to the Family Day on June 15th from 9:15 till 14:00 at Terrains de Sport - Boy Konen 5, Rue des Sports, Cessange or alternatively email email@example.com for more information.