The Netherlands took their place in the gold medal match with a ruthless display against the hosts here tonight, running riot to blow their opponents’ hopes of reaching the final completely out of the water.
The Oranje coach Paul van Ass had come in for some criticism in parts of the media for not selecting penalty corner specialist Taeke Takema or Euro Hockey League top scorer Jeroen Hertzberger for his squad, but with Roderick Weusthof and Billy Bakker both helping themselves to hat-tricks there seemed to be nothing wrong with the Dutch’s prowess in front of goal.
The Dutch took control in the early stages of the match, their high press and excellent organisation forced Great Britain into a number of turnovers in dangerous areas as they struggled to impose themselves on the game. The Netherlands took the lead in the 9th minute. Weusthof flicked into the roof of the net from a penalty corner and the tone for the rest of the game was set.
Ashley Jackson went close with a reverse stick shot moments later but it was comfortably saved by Jaap Stockmann.
The score was doubled on 15 minutes. A mis-trapped penalty corner was passed back into the D. With the GB defence napping Weusthof slapped home through James Fair’s legs.
The home side roused the crowd by pulling a goal back from an Ashley Jackson penalty corner, giving rise to dreams of a repeat of Great Britain’s remarkable comeback against Australia during the pool stages. Barry Middleton almost equalised as he deflected a good chance over the bar after excellent work from Harry Martin and Matt Daly. However, the optimism was short lived as a sweeping Dutch move involving Teun De Nooijer and Billy Bakker forced another penalty corner. This time, Mink van Der Weerden, the heir apparent to the Takema throne scored with a low drag flick for 3-1.
James Fair did well to keep out De Nooijer, Weusthof and Robin Van Der Horst but you sensed another goal was surely imminent. That goal came in the 33rd minute. Weusthof and Valentin Verga linked well to set up Billy Bakker to leave the half time score as 4-1.
The home side rallied after half time, forcing two penalty corners in the opening minutes. Ashley Jackson saw his drag flicks charged down by the runner and Ben Hawes’ reverse stick shot fizzed wide before Matt Daly blazed over the bar. It was an encouraging flurry of chances, but as with their brief period in the ascendancy in the first half, the Dutch quickly re-established their control by scoring a fifth. A lovely move involving Weusthof and De Nooijer cut the defence apart and Bakker applied the finish. 5-1 quickly became 6-1 and then 7-1 as De Nooijer nudged home from close range and captain Floris Evers showed great composure to lift the ball over the helpless James Fair.
Bakker notched his hat-trick with an outrageous tomahawk from near the baseline, as the Dutch scored their fourth goal in seven second half minutes, leaving GB looking down the barrel of a record defeat.
The crowd were still roaring their team on, and with five minutes to play they got their reward as Glenn Kirkham’s cross was diverted home by Rob Moore. The home fans celebrated like it was the winning goal and made even more noise when Fair repelled a Weusthof corner to keep the score below ten.
The final whistle went and the crowd gave the stunned Great Britain players a rapturous ovation. Everyone inside the Riverbank Arena knew that they had seen something special. Great Britain had given their all, and at times had competed well. In the end however, the Dutch’s ruthlessness in front of goal and their composure and technical ability on the ball was just too much.
The final, between The Netherlands and Germany promises to be a great spectacle. Both sides have proved their worth today with superb semi final performances. Great Britain will have to lick their wounds and try to overcome Australia if they are to win the bronze.