Thursday, August 9, 2012

Great Britain vs Netherlands, Olympics 2012 Men's Hockey Semi-Final

This is the second semi-final of the men's competition and on paper this is a real David and Goliath match. These might be the world ranked number one and number four sides, but Netherlands have been on form throughout this competition while Great Britain have, at time, struggled.

Great Britain will have three things in their favour tonight. The first is that no-one really believes that they can do it so the pressure is on Netherlands to deliver the win. The second is home advantage. The crowd in the Riverside Arena will be on their side and if they can hook to that energy, it will give them the equivalent of an extra man. The third advantage is self belief. Jason Lee has built a team that is capable of beating anyone on their day and, for many, there can be no better day than this one.

As far as the teams go, Stockmann has stopped almost everything that has come his way in this tournament and he is one of the most formidable goalkeepers in the world. Fair is no slouch either but has, at times, been beaten just a little easily.

The two defences are evenly matched as is the midfield. The Netherlands strikers are the more experienced but Great Britain are hungrier. This game may well come down to special teams and in particular, the penalty corner specialists. Here, Great Britain have done well throughout this competition but Netherlands are perhaps the finest exponents of this technique in the world today.

First Half
Great Britain get us underway and immediately go on the attack, forcing a long corner but the Netherlands force the play away and Great Britain find themselves back in their D. Lewis is caught in possession but Hawes gets the ball back and Great Britain can now bring the ball away again.

Netherlands have possession and win a long corner through De Nooijer. Great Britain defend well and push forward but Netherlands come right back at them. That final ball from Netherlands should have been better and Great Britain need to be more controlled when they have the ball.

Great Britain up into the Netherlands 23m but lose the ball far too easily. Great Britain have the ball back and move the ball from side to side. Now they are moving forward and a quick ball to Hawes sees him charge into the D but the ball is cleared by Netherlands. It was a great stick clearance by Stockmann.

Netherlands break quickly but the ball was fired in from outside but there was no touch and it runs dead. Netherlands are making very easy yards when they get the ball which will be of concern to Great Britain.

That was a very busy opening five minutes but unlike the earlier semi-final, there have been much fewer changes so far. A collision in the middle of the pitch sees Vermeulen leave the field in what looks like some pain. Speculation at this point of a collar bone injury.

Netherlands on the attack and a good smother tackle by Fair on Verga forces the ball away. Great Britain were very lucky there and that has to serve as a warning call for the defence. More offence from Netherlands and this time the ball is on a foot and it's a penalty corner.

That ball was fired in like a rocket by Weusthof, high and to the left of Fair and that's the first goal to Netherlands

Great Britain 0 Netherlands 1

Great Britain immediately fire back but the shot from Jackson was well saved by Stockmann. Netherlands back on the attack now and they win a free hit. The ball is moved around the back but when it comes into the Great Britain D, it is easily picked off. There was no Netherlands player anywhere near the ball.

The arm wrestle in the midfield is going Netherlands way and this gives them another attack which results in another shot by de Voogd onto the foot of Smith and that's another penalty corner.

A complete mess at the top of the D but Netherlands get to the ball first, the ball is sent in, bobbles around and comes to Weusthof. His shot is right through the feet of Fair.

Great Britain 0 Netherlands 2

We are just 10 minutes in and it's already time for Great Britain to dig deep and prove that they want this match. They might have pulled three goals back against Australia in the group stage but Netherlands are not going to give them the same time.

Good pressure from Great Britain and Martin wins a penalty corner. A chance here to reduce the deficit and put some pressure on Netherlands. Fantastic drag flick by Jackson, just above the back board to Stockmann's right. Those are difficult shots to get to as a goalkeeper.

Great Britain 1 Netherlands 2

That goal puts some pressure back on Netherlands who might have already started to think their job was done. A fantastic break by Great Britain, and Daly just fails to deflect the ball past Stockmann. Netherlands resorting to a couple of long balls to relieve the pressure but now they have the break, it's in the D and Fair puts the ball high. A stick above the shoulder means the goal is wiped off but Netherlands have another short corner.

This game is much faster than the earlier game. This time Van Der Weerden puts the ball very low and to the right of Fair. He's a very tall keeper and getting down to those shots is very hard. At this rate, we could see a lot of goals tonight.

Great Britain 1 Netherlands 3

Netherlands come forward, the ball goes to the unmarked de Nooijer and Fair gets down and smothers the shot. Great Britain get the ball onto a Netherlands foot and start an attack of their own. Netherlands were lucky to get that ball away as Great Britain drive into their D. But as fast as the play breaks down at one end, the ball ends up back at the other.

Netherlands have a chance, but Great Britain get it away. In the midfield, Great Britain are looking about a yard short of the Netherlands pace and that means losing too many tackles and putting themselves under pressure.

Away come Great Britain with the ball through Lewers. They try moving the ball around the back but pressure from Netherlands brings the long pass which is intercepted. Jolie goes down like a football player and there is no place for amateur dramatics in hockey. Now he's up and running down the pitch.

Ball back in Netherlands 23m and they play it from side to side until they get a chance to throw the long ball to Weusthof and the ensuing shot saved by Fair.

A good drive by Great Britain and Stockmann does just enough to deny Martin. Netherlands now slowing the game down but a quick injection of pace once again leaves a striker unmarked and Great Britain escape again. Ball back down the other end of the pitch and it flies across the Netherlands D but there is no player near enough to make anything of it.

Netherlands get an attack, Weusthof drives into the D, loses the ball and then is a bit silly. That challenge on Jackson earns him a green card and two minutes on the bench.

Both sides now breathing hard and you can see the sweat pouring off these players. Great Britain get an attack through Tindall but he can't get it into the D. This gives Netherlands a chance to bring the ball away and slow the game down just a little. Great Britain win the ball but can't do anything with it. Netherlands collect the ball in the middle of the pitch, drive into the Great Britain D. move it around and the final push is from Bakker.

Great Britain 1 Netherlands 4

This is clinical finishing from Netherlands and all possible through well made passes and some poor tackling by Great Britain.

And that's the half time hooter.

This first half has been a lesson for Great Britain in how to control the ball, create movement and score goals. The Netherlands always seem to have players open and when the get into the D, make sure to get a shot off. Great Britain, by comparison, have failed to take some of their chances and that has allowed Netherlands to play with some freedom.

Both goalkeepers have been busy but Stockmann has been the more composed. Fair has been exposed by some poor defending and beaten by some well placed shots. If Great Britain are to get back into this game in the second half, they will need to take every chance that comes their way and build a concrete wall around their D.

The scoring is not yet finished in this match and with a three goal margin, Netherlands will allow themselves the freedom to get creative and that could just, maybe, give Great Britain one or two openings of their own. However, Great Britain are going to be chasing the game and the defence will need to work extra hard to prevent Netherlands exploiting the gaps that will inevitably appear.

Second Half
Great Britain signal their intention with a drive right into Netherlands D and get a penalty corner. This has to be converted if Great Britain want to get back into this match. Drag flick is charged down and the second effort from Jackson is only just wide of the post. Umpire awarded another penalty corner and Netherlands have challenged this but the video referral cannot conclusively prove the decision was wrong so the penalty corner stands.

Netherlands are now getting into a debate with the umpire. This is bad for the image of hockey and players need to respect the decision of the officials. This is where yellow cards should be used.

Penalty corner taken but Netherlands players are so fast, Jackson just cannot get the shot off. Van Der Weerden takes a hard knock on the ankle and is being helped off the pitch. Great Britain have the ball back, drive into the D but just cannot work Stockmann. The shot goes wide.

Great Britain cannot convert their chances and this allows Netherlands to move the ball up the pitch. Tindall has a great chance for a goal but having drawn Stockmann he makes a poor pass to Daly instead of taking the shot. You can't score if you don't work the keeper and the last thing Great Britain needs is strikers getting shy about taking shots on goal.

Almost a great long ball in there but its picked off by a Netherlands stick and away they come with the ball. Only nine minutes gone in this half and the pace is frenetic. Another drive into the D by Netherlands, Fair covers his post, defenders fail to intercept and Bakker takes the pass and scores past a diving Fair.

Great Britain 1 Netherlands 5

Another strike from the edge of the D by De Voogd, Fair couldn't stop it completely and De Nooijer pushes the ball into the back of the open goal.

Great Britain 1 Netherlands 6

22 minutes left in this game and Great Britain are so intent on chasing the game they are leaving men unmarked at the back. Fair found himself two on one and Evers scores the seventh goal. This is a masterclass in international hockey.

Great Britain 1 Netherlands 7

Every goalkeeper will be feeling for Fair at the moment. It will be so hard for him to pick himself up and stay positive for the rest of this game. In two days time he has to face Australia. Just as I say that, Netherlands break and from an acute angle, and Bakker threads the ball past Fair and that's another goal.

Great Britain 1 Netherlands 8

Once again, Netherlands break and there are two unmarked men in the Great Britain 23m Fair does superbly well to force the player to turn away and the defence scramble back to get the ball away. This time the bounce just goes against Netherlands and the ball goes out for a long corner.

There is still some fight in Great Britain and they are doing their best down at Netherlands end of the pitch but once again no shot. The last four goals for Netherlands came in a six minute golden period.

Clarke gets the ball into the Netherlands 23m but it well tackled and the Netherlands are just passing the ball around with ease. Great Britain having to chase everything but they get the ball back.

Cross from Great Britain but its picked off by Jolie and another attack is snuffed out.

Great Britain come again but the tackling from Netherlands is positive and the ball is back at the Great Britain end of the pitch. Fair is on the edge of his D forcing the ball away but Netherlands work a penalty corner, their first of this half. Ball comes out to Weusthof and he has all the time in the world to pick his spot for the drag flick.

Great Britain 1 Netherlands 9

Cheers from the crowd as Great Britain finally win a penalty corner. Stockmann will be looking to keep this out but the stadium is full of people willing the ball in. Netherlands break early and the penalty corner is retaken but to no avail. Ball beats Stockmann but hits the post. Great Britain are have wretched luck here this evening.

We are seeing some determined Great Britain possession in the middle of the pitch now. The players faces show that they are still trying, even though they must realise the match has gone. This is about pride now and they will want to try and do something for this crowd who have been magnificent. No boos, no slow hand clapping, just positive support.

The ball is fired into the D and Moore gets a consolation goal for Great Britain. Flags wave around the stadium.

Great Britain 2 Netherlands 9

It looks like a late fightback from Great Britain. They are not giving up and are digging deep. The crowd are singing. Hofman is free and gets the ball but Fair stands up to him and he cannot find a shot and when he tries the pass, it comes off a Great Britain foot for a penalty corner.

Fair denies Weusthof with a great glove save and the ball is cleared by Great Britain. They may have lost this game but they are not going to concede double figures. Lewers gets a green card and there is 90 seconds left to play. Can Great Britain pull another one back. They have a free hit just outside the Netherlands D. Ball is fired across and can only have been millimetres away from the deflection.

Netherlands break with Bakker and Fair denies them again. The crowd are cheering everything Great Britain do. They really have been the 12th man tonight.

Final hooter goes.

This was a dominant a display as you will see at an international level. Great Britain were taken apart by the best in the world but when four goals were scored in a matter of just six minutes, Great Britain were blown away. The more goals Netherlands scored, the more Great Britain had to chase the game and that just exposed the defence.

There will be many who were unhappy with Great Britain reverting to a 5-3-2-1 approach who will say that the tactics and the side were wrong. That is rubbish. This team did the best it could but on the night were faced with a side that were imperious and would have beaten anyone else in this competition. It is worth remembering that Netherlands have not dropped a single point throughout this competition.

Netherlands will now be looking to beat Germany on Saturday in the gold medal game and on this performance, I cannot see Germany relishing the challenge. Great Britain will have to pick themselves up in order to face Australia for the bronze and there will be some significant pressure on them to come away with at least that.

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