England showed resilience to soak up sustained pressure from Belgium to become the first team to book their place in the semi finals of the Hero Hockey World League Final with a 1-0 victory.
In the first quarter final, a close-fought and tense match between England and Belgium saw the teams separated by a single goal. England, who remain unbeaten, looked very uncomfortable at times, but a series of saves by George Pinner kept England in the hunt for the title and consigned Belgium to yet another defeat.
Tom Carson thought he had broken the deadlock early in the first half, but a video referral by Belgium resulted in the goal being disallowed. Belgium started the match looking sharp in attack and caught the England defence in possession on a number of occasions. When chasing the game, both teams played with well-structured defensive presses and so there was little significant goal mouth action at either end of the pitch in the opening 15 minutes.
A defensive error by the world number four meant Belgium had a chance to attack, but two smart saves by Pinner kept the score sheet blank, the second a good reaction save from a close range shot from Jeffrey Thys.
Simon Mantell drew a save when he went one-on-one with Belgium goal keeper Vincent Vanash, but this was the only serious England attack on goal since Carson's early effort.
The Red Lions saw their sustained pressure pay off in the final two minutes of the half when they won the first penalty corner of the match. The shot was saved on the line and a second corner yielded no goal.
The second half saw Belgium take the initiative, winning a penalty corner in the opening minute. This drew another save from Pinner and acted as a spur to the England team. Coach Bobby Crutchley had called for his team to play braver hockey in the second half and the call was answered when Dan Fox charged through the Belgium defence to win England their first penalty corner.
Two more penalty corners to England increased the pressure on the Belgium defence and it was Tom Carson (47') who scored the crucial opening goal, drag-flicking from the edge of the circle.
The match continued at an intense pace and the world No 4 team were forced to put up a staunch defence as Belgium piled on the pressure. Hero Man of the Match Pinner was called into action as first Boon and then Gauthier Boccard made inroads into the England circle. England held on to book their place in the semi-finals on Friday, while Belgium will play off for 5th-8th place.
After the game, England's Dan Fox said: "We came into this tournament not really knowing where we were. To have won four games is probably better than we expected. This game was tough because there was just the one goal in it."
Crutchley agreed. "We needed to put our corners away, that would have relieved the pressure a little." But he added that he was delighted with the way his team had dealt with the pressure. "Belgium are a really good side, so we are more than pleased with the result."
His counterpart, Marc Lammers said: "This was a good game, and we played much better in the second half. The problem was that we missed too many chances. Our defence and midfield was okay, but the attackers really need to improve, there was less danger from them."
Both Pinner and Vanash had outstanding games, and the Belgium keeper said after the game: "This was a goalkeeper's game. We both played well, but while George Pinner did a great job, I conceded one. We are really disappointed with the result."