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."
Official Match Report (PDF)
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