A week of excellent international hockey has drawn to a close with the Netherlands defeating Australia in an exciting final. Some players enhanced their reputations; some teams sent a warning out to their rivals, some players made strong cases for inclusion in their country’s Olympic Squads and some players need a kick up the backside. The Top of the D gives you a run down of the weeks’ events in part 1 of 2:
Marescia was named player of the tournament and it is not hard to see why. With her excellent ball skills, her versatility and her blistering pace, she turned in a series of superb displays, leading by example to inspire her team to 4th place. She by no means did it on her own, but Marescia is a huge part of why South Africa are a dangerous side.
Chloe Rogers (Great Britain.)
It was not what you would call a vintage tournament for the hosts, but a huge positive can be found in the performances of Chloe Rogers. The Leicester star made an impact whenever she was on the field. Her splendid technical skills along with her strength and determination won her side a glut of penalty corners and created a lot of chances.
Naomi Van As (Netherlands.)
Van As is, quite simply a pleasure to watch. She seems to glide effortlessly round the pitch and is at the heart of all of the Netherlands’ best play. Linking up well with her captain, Maartje Paumen, she was rarely flustered in possession, rarely gave the ball away and always looks a cut above the rest. She almost scored the best goal of the week, late on in the final, leaving Jodie Schulz and Kobie McGurk for dead with an effortless change of pace before somehow being denied by Toni Cronk. Sublime.
Kobie McGurk (Australia.)
It is not always fashionable to talk about non-attacking players, but Kobie McGurk was outstanding. She sat in front of the Australia defence and simply tackled pretty much everything. She rarely wasted possession when she had it, choosing simple and effective passes rather than over complicating things. Australia like to press high up the pitch, which means that the defence can be exposed if the first line of the press is beaten. McGurk made sure that those behind her had an easier run than they might have. Underrated, but very important.
Warning of the Tournament:
Having come through a qualifying tournament, under the orders of their national federation, it is perhaps a little odd that so many people were surprised with how well the Springboks played. They beat hosts GB in their first game and pushed the Germans all the way in the second, meaning people were forced to take notice of them as a quality side. They slightly ran out of steam and did not deserve the thrashing they got in the 3rd/4th playoff. Having said that, the rest periods are longer in the Olympics, so will that be a problem again?
When asked in a press conference about being the surprise package, assistant coach Fabian Gregory said: “We are an experienced side, who have a number of players with over 100 caps, and a number of players in and around the FIH All Star team. If people think we are at the Olympics to make up the numbers, they are in for a rude awakening.”
You have been warned.
Emma Gray (Ireland.)
Made her 50th and 51st international appearances this week and did not look out of her depth against top quality opposition. Her first half performance against the Netherlands was one of the best goalkeeping displays I have seen in a long time. The Oranje completely dominated, yet Gray made 7-8 world-class saves and was only beaten from a rebound off one of these. She will make many more appearances if she keeps turning it on like this.
Max Caldas has not yet named his Olympic Squad. Whilst he has undoubtedly got 23 quality players on his hands, his choice of goalkeeper is one of the toughest decisions he has to make. Both Joyce Sombroek and Floortje Engels showed their respective qualities in this tournament. Neither put a foot wrong and both made some superb saves; there really is nothing to choose between them, sadly for Caldas, this tournament didn’t get him any closer to knowing which one to pick!
Nina Hasselmann (Germany.)
A huge factor in why Germany are a threat at this summer’s Olympics is down to their outstanding defensive work. Any number of their back four could have made this list, but I have opted for Hasselmann. Hasselmann’s tackling and organisation was extremely impressive. However her technique and composure under pressure are the qualities for which she really stands out. She managed to pick the right pass whilst being pressed by 3 or 4 opponents yet she never looked in the least bit rushed. The ball pace around the back and the angles the Germans find mean that when they decide to attack it is effective and incisive. Hasslemann is a very important component in this.
Laura Unsworth (Great Britain.)
No Kate Walsh, no Crista Cullen, the Great Britain defensive cupboard was looking pretty bare. Up stepped Laura Unsworth. The pocket-sized defender looked very comfortable filling in captain Walsh’s position. Her distribution was first class, her tackling well timed and well executed and her organisation and dominance of the Great Britain defence showed great maturity and a good hockey brain. On this evidence, when Walsh finally hangs up her stick, Unsworth will be a more than adequate replacement. Praise indeed.
Nicolene Terblanche (South Africa.)
To sum her up briefly, Terblanche is energetic, powerful, quick, a good tackler and not afraid to get forward. Those characteristics are more or less a checklist for what makes a good defender and Terblanche displayed all in abundance this past week. A factor in why the South Africans did so well is their pace and energy at getting forward. Terblanche more than plays her part in this and was hugely impressive.
Goal of the tournament.
Bernadette Coston (South Africa vs. Great Britain.)
South Africa already had their noses in front when Coston struck. A swift move down the right-hand side culminated in Coston collecting the ball just inside the D, without breaking stride, before unleashing a blistering strike into the roof of the net, giving Beth Storry no chance. It was a huge blow for the hosts, but a splendid goal, whoever you were supporting.
Part two of this feature will be posted tomorrow.