Dutch head coach Paul van Ass made some tough cuts for the Olympic team
Dutch head coach Paul van Ass made some tough cuts for the Olympic team
(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 men's national team of the Netherlands.

The Basics:
The Dutch men are currently #3 in the FIH World Ranking with 1855 points, trailing Germany and Australia. The Dutch have played in 13 Olympic Games, since making their debut in 1928, missing just three Games since then. They won back-to-back gold medals in 1996 and 2000 and have garnered three silvers and three bronzes, as well. Combined with their women’s side, they have won more hockey medals than any other nation, 14 in total. The Dutch finished fourth in Beijing and a third-place finish followed at the 2010 World Cup in New Delhi; silver at the European championships and bronze once more at last December’s Champion’s Trophy in Auckland.

The Road to London:
Second place in Monchengladbach at the European Championships was enough to claim one of three automatic places for the Games. With England reaching the semi-finals of that competition, the Dutch took one of the three other tickets to London simply by reaching the final four, their 7-4 victory over Ireland – inspired by four Taeke Taekema penalty corner goals – in the final group game ultimately confirmed their Olympic berth.

Players to Watch:
Now preparing for his fifth Olympic Games, Teun de Nooijer vies with Australia’s Jamie Dwyer for top spot in the debate of who is the modern great of the game. He won the first of his two gold medals in 1996 in Atlanta and followed up with a second in Sydney four years later. A magical touch, sublime balance and an eye for goal which has yielded over 200 international strikes, he is truly a world star. Billy Bakker is emerging as a tricky customer from play and Robert van den Horst is another one to watch further back in the field. Roderick Weusthof top-scored in the Dutch Hoofdklasse this year for Rotterdam with a massive 36 goals and will be their go-to man in that department.

Coach:
Paul van Ass took over the head coaching role from Michel van den Heuvel in June 2010. Prior to this, he had played a major role in transforming club side HGC from a relegation-threatened Hoofdklasse side to one contending for European club titles. The club reached the national club finals in 2007 and reached the EHL final in 2008. In the 2008/09 season, he became the “Jong Oranje” coach before stepping up to the senior role. Since taking on the top job, two Champions Trophy bronze medals and a European silver is the return from the major tournaments.

Strengths:
Ostensibly a young, emerging squad with a couple of experienced heads, keen to make their mark. The creative totems of Teun de Nooijer and Floris Evers provide plenty of opportunities for their forward line. The depth and competitiveness of their club game means they always have a glut of players fighting for an orange jersey and this selection has been no exception, allowing the country to be one of the most consistent medal challengers.

Weaknesses:
When coach Paul van Ass made the brave decision to leave top stars like Teun de Nooijer and Taeke Taekema out of his squad in January of this year, it caused plenty of consternation in the Dutch media. Veterans of over a combined 600 caps, the idea appeared to be forge new leaders in a young panel. De Nooijer has returned to the selection after eight weeks out injured but Taekema was surplus to requirements and whether the Dutch can fill the void of corner goals remains to be seen.

Crystal Ball:
Recent form appears to see them playing catch-up on group mates Germany, their conquerors at the European championships and more recently in the Masters tournament in Dusseldorf. Revenge of sorts was earned in the Champions Challenge in December with a 3-2 success but it suggests their margin for error in Group B is very small if they are once again to make the semi-finals. They have the confidence and the experience, though, that comes with six successive appearances in the final four, dating back to 1988, and a high quality squad to be very much classed as one of the gold contenders. Whether they will rue leaving out Taekema and, also, EHL top-scorer Jeroen Hertzberger? Time will tell.