We are delighted to reveal that Ambre Ballenghien’s superb backhand strike for Belgium’s women away to New Zealand on 1 February has been chosen as the Best Goal of the FIH Hockey Pro League in 2020, as voted by fans using the Watch.Hockey app.
Ballenghien’s goal earned 21.09 percent of the fan vote to finish ahead of India’s Gurjant Singh (14.54 percent) and Carla Rebecchi of Argentina (14.43 percent), who finished in second and third place respectively in a ten-strong, mixed gender shortlist that attracted votes in their thousands from all over the world.
To mark the occasion, we spoke with this rising star of Belgian hockey about her goal as well as her aims and ambitions with the team over the coming years.
FIH: Ambre Ballenghien of Belgium, I’m pleased to tell you that your goal against New Zealand has been voted as the best goal of the 2020 FIH Hockey Pro League. Thank you so much for joining us and congratulations! What is your reaction to that news?
Ambre Ballenghien: “Well, I’m really amazed by it, and it makes me very happy, for sure! I really didn’t expect it, so yes, I am pleased because there were a lot of amazing goals, and I didn’t think mine would win the competition, so I am very happy!”
FIH: Well, it was a great strike on the backhand; you didn’t have much of a target to aim for. There was a little space between the goalkeeper and her near post. Did you see the space, or were you just hoping for the best?!
Ambre Ballenghien: “Yeah, I think I was really hoping for the best, because as a striker you try to take every opportunity that you have to shoot on goal. I was there in the circle, even though it was a tight angle, and I thought: ‘just go for it, try to score it and you will see”. It was a bit of a lucky one, but I am happy to score it.”
FIH: The goal came just two minutes into the game, and you ended up going on to beat New Zealand 2-1 in that particular match. You look like you’ve really enjoyed playing in the FIH Hockey Pro League. Has that been the case?
Ambre Ballenghien: “For sure. It is a continuation of the first Pro League [season], which is where I actually made my debut for the national team and started to learn how it is to play at the international level. Every game I have really enjoyed and had a lot of fun, and it is allowing me to make my first steps. I want to enjoy and try to improve every game.”
FIH: You are only 19 so you very much have time on your side – you turn 20 this coming Sunday [13 December]. You are making quite an impression, despite being so young. What is it like being part of this exciting, young Red Panthers team?
Ambre Ballenghien: “I think I have [been given a big opportunity] to be able to start playing for them so young. I just enjoy it; I don’t put any pressure on myself. I just want to improve, and I think that having Pro League is amazing for youngsters like me to try and develop, to grow as a player. It really is an amazing opportunity for us [youngsters], so we all take it.”
FIH: What kind of ambitions do you have with Belgium, both on a personal level and also with the team itself? With potentially many years of playing ahead of you, what are you looking to achieve during your career?
Ambre Ballenghien: “With the team, for sure I want us to be in the top four [ranked teams]. It is what I dream about, and it is about making sure that we make progress and make history. That is really what I want in my career, to leave the shirt in a better place, and I’m sure we have the potential to do so. I know we are still behind the top teams for the moment. We can beat them sometimes, but we still need to make some steps, and I really want to be part of that generation that can win tournaments and medals, that is what I am going for. On a personal level, for sure I was to become one of the best players out there, be the best that I can, be a really good striker and drag-flicker as well, which is what I aim for.”
FIH: Yes, we have seen your drag-flick in action, you scored one [in the FIH Hockey Pro League] not so long ago. So that is something that you have been working particularly hard on?
Ambre Ballenghien: “Yes. Since I am quite young, I like to [practise] drag-flicks by myself, in training. But for sure it is a technique that takes quite a while to develop, and to start scoring. As you get more powerful, then they start to go in and you start to score some. Also, in my club I’ve started taking more drag-flicks, and scoring some which is nice, but [I] still [have] a lot of steps to make to be able to be consistent for it to become a key weapon.”
FIH: You are studying in Brussels at the moment, planning for the future. How are you finding the balance between study with training with the national team?
Ambre Ballenghien: “It is not easy, I have to be honest! You really have to be flexible in your mind, and in this corona period even more. Everything is uncertain, so you need to be able to adapt. Luckily, we have a lot of help, we have special status as top-sport athletes, to make sure we can succeed in both our hockey careers and in our studies. So, for the moment it is going well, and I’m thankful for all of the help I have around me.”
FIH: You mentioned the coronavirus situation. Obviously, that has reduced the amount of hockey being played the world over, and in Belgium it has been no different. You must be looking forward to hopefully playing a lot more international hockey in 2021.
Ambre Ballenghien: “Yes, I hope so because it seems like we have had a break of one year – that is how it feels. When I talk about the Pro League in 2019, it feels like it was a month ago, but it is already one year ago. I want to play a lot of games because as a team we really need it if we want to improve. We need to play against the top teams. Also, for myself, to gain experience comes only by playing. If you don’t play you don’t improve, so that is really what I am looking forward to.”
FIH: Well, thank you so much for joining us for this conversation. Do you want to say anything to the fans who voted for your Best Goal?
Ambre Ballenghien: “I want to say thank you to everyone! I’m really pleased to win it, and also thanks to all the others who were nominated for the best goal. I am really happy to have it, but there were other goals that were really amazing, so thank you to everybody!”
FIH: Thank you so much, and congratulations once again.
Ambre Ballenghien: “Thank you!”
The outcome of the fan vote for the Best Matches of the FIH Hockey Pro League in 2020 will be revealed between Wednesday 16 and Friday 18 December.
Don’t forget to download the Watch.Hockey app, where you can find the latest news and interviews as well as action replays and highlights. Simply search Watch.Hockey in the App Store or on Google Play. A desktop version of the app is available at www.watch.hockey.
Image: Ambre Ballenghien. Copyright: FIH / Getty Images.