Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Netherlands vs New Zealand, Olympics 2012 Hockey Semi-final

Coming into this game Netherlands were unbeaten in their group matches while New Zealand had come through the extremely hard group B in second place. Netherlands were clear favourites before the game started but there were some significant questions over their attack.

First half
Right from the start of this game we saw end to end hockey. Both sides had decided that this was not a match where they should be sitting back letting the other attack first, so they went out with one aim, score!

Both goalkeepers, Sombroek and Russell, were involved in early action making great saves from open field play. At the same time, both defences were having to work hard to contain the opposing forwards.

In the end, it was New Zealand who struck first with a goal from a penalty corner. The ball was pushed out, hit slightly wide of the post and deflected in. 1-0 New Zealand. The response was immediate as Netherlands piled forward looking for a quick response. But as fast as they went forward, they left gaps for New Zealand to exploit and had to chase back and defend.

With neither side able to get past some excellent defensive tackling and good goalkeeping, it looked like New Zealand would go into the half-time break with their lead intact. Netherlands are not a team that is easily beaten and they would have been aware of the psychological advantage that a half time lead would give their opponents. Time and again they attacked the New Zealand goal but each time they were thwarted and found themselves chasing back hard to stop any chance of a breakaway goal.

New Zealand had a great opportunity for a second goal towards the end of the first half but the penalty corner strike was poor. This gave Netherlands a chance to push forward and win their own penalty corner. Surprisingly for a Netherlands side, penalty corners have not yielded the number of goals at these Olympics that we have come to expect from them. There was no mistake this time as Paumen hammered the ball home and the game went into half-time all tied at 1-1.

The first half was probably just shaded by New Zealand in terms of possession and creativity but they were unable to properly exploit that and take a solid lead into the half-time break. Having fought back into this match, Netherlands would have wanted to start dominating play in the second half.

Second Half
The second half opened with the same flowing, end-to-end hockey that we'd seen in the first half. Both sides had the chance to score from open play but neither was able to put the ball away and Netherlands were the first to win a penalty corner but Paumen wasted it high over the bar. New Zealand poured forward looking for their own penalty corner but Netherlands were ready for them.

For a while, we had stalemate in the middle of the field with both sides losing the ball a little too easily. Balls didn't go to sticks, tackles were missed and the game looked like it could get messy. However, a quick Netherlands attack lead to a shot from the top of the D drew a good clearance kick from Russell.

In the ensuing melee, as Netherlands looked for another shot, Glynn came in from the wrong side and took a real crack on the top of the head. For those who saw the match on TV, it really was a hard hit but these are hockey players, not footballers and there was no pushing, shoving, mobbing the umpire or demanding a player sent off. Play was stopped for a while as Glynn was treated and the pitch was cleaned to remove the blood spill.

When the game got underway again, New Zealand found it hard to get into the Netherlands end of the pitch. The Netherlands, in turn, were getting into the New Zealand D reasonably easily but just couldn't get the ball to a stick in order to get a shot away. A quick New Zealand break and Forgesson who had just come on was unmarked in the Netherlands D. Shot was on target and the ball is in the back of the net. Good work from New Zealand, good strike from Forgesson but awful goalkeeping from Sombroek who got just about everything wrong. 2-1 New Zealand.

As the match restarted, there was some aggressive recovery tackling from Netherlands which was just on the right side of legal. This seemed to unsettle one or two of the New Zealand players. After driving into the New Zealand D, Netherlands got a penalty corner courtesy of the video referral. A fantastic, unstoppable drag flick from Paumen resulted in an absolute peach of a goal. High, right in the top corner and beyond the reach of Russell. Match tied at 2-2.

Within a minute, New Zealand got a penalty corner at the other end but were unable to convert it. Back came Netherlands and immediately won another penalty corner. This time, instead of the drag flick they tried to be a little too elaborate and Paumen made a complete mess of it.

Going into the last 10 minutes, this game was well poised although New Zealand were turning the ball over just a little too easily. Netherlands, by comparison, were so focused on going forward that they were beginning to miss tackles at the back. Anything could happen and Glynn, having been stitched up, returned to the pitch.

As both sides struggled for the winner in normal time, gaps started to appear. Netherlands had a real opportunity when New Zealand failed to pick up the striker but the ball went wide. Taking the ball up the other end, New Zealand failed to win a penalty corner, after a long delay for a video referral but it wasn't long before they did win a penalty corner with just over four minutes left.

The first shot was not only just too high but well saved by Sombroek. Netherlands drove the ball back up field and should have had a penalty corner but a miscommunication between the umpires denied them. With just a minute to go, Netherlands should have scored the winner but twice, in the last minute, they failed to convert their chances, allowing New Zealand to see out the clock and take the match to extra time.

The second half in this game was much more hotly contested than the first with chances galore for both sides. Only a combination of poor finishing and some good goalkeeping took this match to golden goal extra time.

Extra Time
Netherlands were the first to attack in search of the golden goal but New Zealand got the ball clear. With both sides feeling the pressure, it was no surprise that there were a lot of missed tackles and speculative long passes. With just a minute left of the first period, New Zealand drove the entire length of the field but were unable to get a goal.

Right at the start of the second period of extra time New Zealand had a great opportunity but the ball refused to go to a stick. Flynn was then shown a yellow card meaning she would be off until the last minute. The question now was, could the Netherlands take advantage of the extra player advantage? They immediately drove into the New Zealand D and won a penalty corner.

Throughout this competition, Paumen has had real problems getting the ball on target and this time she missed the goal to her left. A player down, New Zealand had to take a chance and go on the attack but that meant leaving space at the back for Netherlands to exploit. Although New Zealand had several chances to get the golden goal, they just couldn't find a way through a strong Netherlands defence.

With less than a minute to play and both sides back to full strength, it was Netherlands on the attack and New Zealand clinging on. The whistle blew and that was it. No golden goal and it was time for the shoot out.

Shoot Out
Netherlands won the toss and elected to go first.

Van As went at the keeper, moved to her left and Russell followed her. A quick reverse of the stick and Van As was round Russel. 1-0

Next up was Sharland for New Zealand. Trying the direct approch she went straight at Sombroek who cleared the ball off of her pads. 1-0
Paumen tried to get around Russell who made a great save. 1-0

Michelsen pulled Sombroek to the side, darted back and slipped the ball just inside the post 1-1

De Goede decided that the direct approach was best. Picked up the ball, drove to the top of the D and unleashed a fearsome strike that beat Russell. 2-1

Flynn now had a chance to equalise but went too close to Sombroek making it easy for the keeper to save. 2-1

Van Geffen looked like she was going to emulate De Goede but Russell was off her line like a whippet and cleared the ball. 2-1

Punt tried to pull Sombroek wide but went too wide allowing the keeper to close down the angle and make an easy save 2-1.

With just one player from each team to go it was down to Hoog to win it for Netherlands. In she came, faked to shoot, down went Russell and Hoog took her time to put the ball in the back of the net. 3-1 Netherlands and they advance to the final, leaving New Zealand to play for bronze.

This shootout format is definately much better than penalty strokes and gives the GK more chance while making it more entertaining for the spectators.

If you want all the stats from the game you can find them here

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