After 46 games and 17 days of hockey, the Final Women and Men will be contested by the hosts The Netherlands and Australia.
On semi-final day yesterday, England played Netherlands and Argentina played Australia.
Result Men’s Semi-final 1: England v Netherlands 0-1 (0-1)
England and the Netherlands played out a thrilling semi-final in the afternoon heat at the Kyocera Stadium. With the Netherlands taking a lead in the 31st minute through a thunderous Mink van Weerden penalty corner it was always going to be a tough call for England to play their own game. But the side, led by inspirational captain Barry Middleton, threw everything they had at the Dutch in an attempt to break the solid line of orange defence. The match finished 1-0, and the home nation will now face either Australia or Argentina in Sunday’s final.
“I would prefer it to be Australia,” said Netherland’s coach Paul van Ass, explaining that he liked to play attacking hockey and Australia would always provide that sort of match.
The match against England was certainly not so much to van Ass’s liking. “They gave us the midfield, and I understand why,” said the coach, “But I like to play more attacking hockey, and when it is like that, we can always concede a goal.”
“It was a case of our strong defence facing their strong attack,” said England midfielder Henry Weir. “Unfortunately they scored and we were unable to take advantage of our scoring opportunities.” Those opportunities were far and few between, for both sides. Although the Netherlands forwards were in the England circle on plenty of occasions, they faced a wall of defence that stood really firm and, if they did breach the wall, then ‘keeper George Pinner was on excellent form and made several high quality saves to keep his side in the game.
England nearly took the lead in the opening minutes of the game through Ashley Jackson, with the Netherland’s goalkeeper Jaap Stockmann forced into early action. However, the first half definitely belonged to the Dutch as Billy Bakker, who was playing his 100th international; Valentin Verga and Sander de Wijn were all particularly effective at pressuring the England goal with their speed and attacking aggression.
“I thought we restricted a really good attacking side to 1-0 and that is a tremendous achievement,” said England coach Bobby Crutchley. “In the first half we didn’t keep possession so well. We wanted to keep it tight and be there at the end, and to the lads credit we did that. To still be in with a shout at the very end is a real positive against this team. We put the Dutch under pressure. If you had told me 12 months ago that we would compete like that with the Dutch, I wouldn’t believe you.”
The Netherlands certainly had chances to take the lead in the first half. Before van Weerden’s goal, the drag-flick specialist had seen a shot saved by Pinner, and the follow-up also retrieved by the England ‘keeper. On 22 minutes Verga hit the post and minutes later Seve van Ass had a screamer of a shot saved by the ‘keeper.
The goal, when it came, was another trademark drag flick which flew in past Pinner’s left shoulder, and England would have been glad of a chance to regroup at half time.
The second half was a much more even affair. Middleton, Jackson and Simon Mantell built steadily from the midfield and Mark Gleghorne was tireless as he ran at the Dutch defence. To the man, England stuck to their defensive game-plan and Crutchley will have been delighted with the discipline his side displayed. Unfortunately for England, they were playing a Netherlands team that has also got its defence in order, and whenever England got a sniff of the Dutch circle, they were met with a solid Dutch dam-like defence.
After the game, Paul van Ass said: “We deserved to win because we had the better part of the game, but we wanted a second goal. They gave us the midfield space to run the ball in and we had to be patient. We had to make goals and we didn’t do that. When it comes to the final I hope we play Australia, because they also play attacking hockey and that is the game and the challenge that I like.”
Result Men’s Semi-final 2: Australia v Argentina 3-0 (5-1)
Australia marched into the finals of the Rabobank Hockey World Cup after leaving Los Leones stunned by a dominant display of attack and counter-attacking hockey of the highest quality. Earlier in the day, the Netherlands coach Marc Lammers had said he hoped to meet the Kookaburras in the final because they played a style of hockey he admired. It is a wish that has come true, but may also come back to haunt him if Australia continue their current trend of improving with every game.
The result means that the Kyocera Stadium will host a double header between Australia and the Netherlands this weekend as both the mens and women’s finals will feature the same protagonists.
While most of the traffic was one-way, there was some special moments of magic for Argentina, confirming their new status as a major player on the world hockey stage. A bronze medal match against England should make for an intriguing encounter between two very different styles of play.
The first goal in this semi-final was all about Kieran Govers (4′): the Australian front man intercepted a loose Argentinian pass and then won a penalty corner as he drove towards goal. His drag flick was inch perfect as it shot past the outstretched arm of Juan Vivaldi in the Argentine goal.
It was one-way traffic for the remainder of the first half, Matt Gohdes came close with a stunning strike that brought out the best of Vivaldi and Matthew Swann showed outrageous skill to receive an aerial ball in the circle, control it and shoot on the bounce. His shot flying just wide of Vivaldi’s post.
The youngest member of the Kookaburra’s team, Jeremy Hayward, scored his second goal of the competition on the 22nd minute of the game. His shot rocketed into the net to double the lead and put even more pressure on the Argentine team to find a way back into the goal. The Kookaburras third goal was scored by Jacob Whetton, the 22-year-old atoning for a poor pass just seconds earlier. He received a field-splitting pass from captain Mark Knowles and with a swift turn, fired a tomahawk shot into the net to make it 3-0 going into half-time.
Australia’s goal-fest continued with Chris Ciriello (49’): the big man putting everything into the drag-flick that rocketed past Vivaldi. This was followed six minutes later when Hayward scored his second – another drag-flick penalty corner, indicating that Australia’s goal-scoring future is in safe hands.
Despite the Australian domination, there were moments of Latin American brilliance. A moment of sublime skill from Joaquin Menini occurred as the game drew towards its conclusion. The Argentine player received the ball in the air and juggled it on the edge of the circle before smashing it at the net. Andrew Charters in the Kookaburra’s goal got the faintest of touches and Matthew Swann was able to clear his ‘keeper’s line. It was a moment of pure hockey excellence from all three players involved.
It would have been the most unjust of semi-finals if Gonzalo Peillat did not get his moment in the sun and it came in the 58th minute. Goal hero Hayward turned villain for a moment as he fouled Lucas Vila on the top of the circle. The penalty corner strike from Peillat was a thunderous drag-flick, confirming his position as current top scorer in the World Cup with 10 goals.
Australian captain Mark Knowles said: “Our first priority was to get to the semi-finals. The big one is now on Sunday. We have fought for four years to get here. After London 2012 we were disappointed with how we went about things and our goal was to be in the final in this majestic stadium. We are here, the Netherlands are here and the final is on Sunday.”
Coach Ric Charlesworth said: “I think we played a very solid first half, although we lost concentration towards the end, which is a worry to me. We have been in Europe now for four weeks and we are ready for this important game.”
When asked if he was happy to meet the Dutch in the final, the coach said: “I don’t care whose there. The Dutch are there because they have worked hard and we have worked hard to get there too.”
Argentina Coach Carlos Retegui said: “It was a tough match so we tried to give it our best and get some counter-attack. But this game was not our game. We couldn’t get the penalty corners we wanted to get. We wanted to give Gonzalo a chance to strike penalty corners but that didn’t happen. Australia had 80 per cent possession which makes it very difficult to play against. But I am very happy and proud of the players.”
Photograph: Mink van Weerden celebrating his penalty v England ( FIH/Treeby Images (c))