The Dutch women have had much to celebrate since the 2008 Games
The Dutch women have had much to celebrate since the 2008 Games
(Photo: FIH / Frank Uijlenbroek)

'In the Spotlight' is a series that will profile each of the 24 participating teams at the London Olympic Games. It will provide a glimpse of what to expect as each squad begins its London quest. Between now and the Olympic opening ceremony a new team will be featured every 2-3 days. Today, we feature the Dutch women's national team.

The Basics:
The Netherlands Women are currently ranked 1st in the FIH World Ranking with 2063 points, just 33 points ahead of nearest rivals Argentina. The Dutch have played in the last seven Olympic Games, only missing the 1980 Games due to the boycott in Moscow. From those seven events, two gold, one silver and three bronze medals have accrued with 1992’s sixth place their worst performance, and they go to London as reigning champions. In 2010, they were World Cup runners-up to Argentina in Rosario but won the 2011 Champions Trophy on home soil and the EuroHockey Championship in Mönchengladbach. February saw their recent run stalled with bronze in Rosario’s 2012 Champions Trophy.

The Road to London:
As European Champions, the Netherlands claimed one of the two automatic slots from the continental competition to London along with final runners-up, Germany.

Players to Watch:
At just 27, Dutch skipper Maartje Paumen’s is already among one of the legends of the game. A powerful presence in the centre of the back or pushing on into midfield, she has the ability to spray passes to the flanks, and the reach to pick off big tackles. It is her corner ability, though, which she is most famed for as one of the most fearsome – along with South Africa’s Pietee Coetzee – penalty corner exponents. She was named the 2011 FIH Player of the Year, is the top scorer in Champions Trophy history and scored in every single game of the Netherlands’ 2010 World Cup campaign. Naomi van As adds a graceful figure to midfield while Lidewij Welten is a key threat from play in and around opposition goalkeeper’s pads.

Coach:
Max Caldas, a former Argentine international but long-time Dutch resident, took over the head coach’s role in November 2010 having been the assistant coach in 2006 when the Netherlands won the World Cup and the Beijing Olympics. Since taking on the role, the Dutch have won the European Championship and the 2011 Champions Trophy on home soil before coming third in Rosario earlier this year. Caldas started his coaching career in earnest after injury put paid to his playing days, the highlight of which included a Pan-American gold and Champions Trophy bronze. He had been in Holland for four seasons with Klein Zwitserland and stayed in the country to pursue coaching, attaining success with Leiden and Amsterdam’s ladies first team before taking on the Bloemendaal men’s team.

Strengths:
Defensively, the spine of the team, with Willemijn Bos and Maartje Paumen central, is an immaculate one as they managed to win the European title conceding just twice in five games. In doing so, they kept the world number three and four sides Germany and England blank in the knockout phases. Their penalty corners are one of the most lethal in the women’s game while their ability to create space down either flank creates plenty of chances.

Weaknesses:
Since the 2010 World Cup, enforcers like Janneke Schopman and Minke Smeets have retired, leaving a big amount of leadership responsibility to fill for their fresh-faced panel. Argentina are their recent Achilles heel, ending their title hopes at the last two major events as the trickery of Luciana Aymar and Carla Rebecchi has been their undoing - something they will need to pin down should the sides meet. Caldas pin-pointed Great Britain as favourites for gold in the wake of the Investec London Cup and so they need to be extra wary of the hosts in the group phase.

Crystal Ball:
The to and fro between the Netherlands and Argentina in recent times leaves them as the two fancied sides for overall glory. For Max Caldas’ side, the group phase looks the friendlier of the two, though Great Britain on home turf will be a more than tricky final pool game should any points be dropped en route. Their corner prowess and mean defence should see them have the tools to progress to the latter phases.