The Netherlands edged out their old foes in the opening game of the Investec London Cup here at the Quintin Hogg Memorial Ground in London. It was the 7th defeat for the Hockeyroos in their eight previous meetings against their European opponents.
The first half was a cagey affair with both teams pressing the ball high up the field and looking to win possession and break in clusters. After 8 minutes, the first chance fell to the influential Naomi van As, her shot was dealt with comfortably by Toni Cronk in the Australia goal. At the other end Casey Eastham went close with a reverse stick shot which was kept out well by Flortje Engels. As the half wore on, Van As was becoming more and more influential, all of the Dutch’s best work going through the former world player of the year.
On 16 minutes Kelly Jonker found herself clean through but was unable to get the better of Cronk who saved well, again. Australia were still posing a threat on the break and Fiona Boyce was unlucky to see her shot saved by Engels after she had done well to escape the attentions of Willemijn Bos on the left-hand side.
The sides went in at the break level at 0-0 with each side having their chances, but neither goalkeeper was unduly troubled.
Immediately after the restart the Dutch forced the first penalty corner of the match. Martje Pauman went high to the goalkeeper’s right but Cronk was equal to the task once more. A series of corners followed for the Oranje, Pauman seemed to be struggling to find her range and was becoming visibly frustrated. After 10 minutes of the half, a moment of controversy as an Australian shot struck Frederique Derkx. With the defender prone on the ground the ball was despatched by Ashleigh Nelson but the umpire had already awarded a penalty corner.
Finally the deadlock was broken after a splendid counterattack from the Australians. Jade Close linked brilliantly with Hope Munro and found Emily Smith who had made superb ground to get into the D. Smith calmly sent a reverse stick shot past Engels to give her side the lead. The Dutch replied, winning a penalty corner. Caia van Maasakker slapped a shot towards, which was saved initially, only for Pauman to scramble the rebound home, with a little help from the defender on the line. 17 minutes into the half, the Dutch had their noses in front. Martje Pauman found the task of beating Cronk from a stroke, not a penalty corner far more successful, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way to make it 2-1.
The Dutch forced a series of corners as they sought to put the game beyond their rivals, but they found Cronk in the Hockeyroos goal to be in inspired form as she pulled off a string of fine saves to keep her side in with a chance. Australia too, forced their own penalty corners; Jodie Schulz flicked high and wide before going closer with another effort which Engels did well to keep out, low to her right. Australia pushed hard to try to find an equalizer, but despite the animated nature of the Dutch coach, Max Caldas in the closing stages, the Netherlands calmly ran the clock down to hold on for the win.
Caldas was understandably upbeat in the post-match press conference: “I was curious as to how the girls would react today. It’s the first time they’ve played together in weeks, so i was interested to see how they coped. I am very happy with the victory.”
Adam Commens, the Australian coach was also positive, despite the defeat: “It’s important to consider the rankings of the two teams, so to run them that close is a positive for us. That said, understandably we are disappointed not to get a result. We are a young group with a lot of potential. If we keep improving, we could be in the mix at the Olympics.”
Both sides will feel there is room for improvement, but the performance of Van As for the Dutch and in particular Eastham and Kobie McGurk for the Hockeyroos will have caught the eye. Australia face off against Ireland tomorrow at 17:30, whilst the Dutch are in action again on Thursday, also against Ireland also, at 17:30.