Euro Hockey League Final Four: KHC Dragons 4-4 Rot Weiss Koln. (5-4 on penalties.)

KHC Dragons took their place in Sunday’s Euro Hockey League Final after seeing off Rot Weiss Koln on penalties in a pulsating encounter in Bloemendaal.

Christopher Zeller’s penalty corner with the last play of the match had taken the game to penalties, where Benjamin Wess’ failure to beat Manu Leroy allowed Jeffrey Thys to despatch the last penalty to give Dragons the win.

The game was a see-saw encounter in which the German side had the better of the opening exchanges. They took the lead at the end of the first quarter. Loick Luypaert’s mistake let in Christoph Menke who kept his composure to round the goalkeeper and slot home from a narrow angle.

Koln doubled their advantage in the second quarter, this time Menke latched onto an aerial pass which put him through with just the goalkeeper to beat, Leroy came charging out of goal but could only bring the Koln man down to concede a penalty stroke which Zeller calmly despatched with a minimum of fuss.

Dragons began to work their way back into the match and some good 3D skills from Felix Denayer set up Thys who was denied by a good piece of goalkeeping from Max Weinhold. Weinhold was called upon again shortly after, this time showing good agility to get a foot to a deflection from Florent Van Aubel.

With time almost up in the half, Dragons halved the deficit. Luypaert’s penalty corner was saved by Weinhold but the rebound fell to Thys who lashed home from close range to make it 2-1 at the break.

After half time Dragons imposed themselves on the game, Denayer was denied from a penalty corner, but they were not to be kept out for long. Denayer robbed Trompertz just outside the 23 metre area and slipped the ball to Matthew Cobbaert. He hit the ball first time on his reverse into the far corner giving Weinhold absolutely no chance. Dragons were starting to dominate the game but couldn’t find the all-important third goal. Koln managed to retake the lead after Zeller’s cross found its way to Andrin Rickli. The Koln No.13 showed terrific skills to get away from two defenders before lifting the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper to make it 3-2. Dragons immediately equalised as Thierry Stumpe was allowed time and space at the top of the D, making no mistake with yet another wonderful strike to beat the diving goalkeeper and take the game to extra time.

In the second period of extra time it looked like the Belgians had won it as Thys’ cross was expertly defelcted into the roof of the net by Denayer. Koln took off their goalkeeper and went to a kicking back, forcing a penalty corner which Leroy saved with his feet from Zeller. With a last throw of the dice Koln forced another corner. Time ran out so it was to be the last play of the game. Zeller stepped up again and beat Leroy low to his right to send the game to penalties in the most dramatic of fashions.

And so to penalties. Zeller, Trompertz, Miltkau, and Weissenborn all scored for the Germans, whilst Cobbaert, Van Aubel, Luypaert and Van Doren did likewise for Dragons. The quality of the penalties was superb as both goalkeepers were given little chance of saving any. Then came the defining moment of the game, up stepped Koln captain Benjamin Wess. With Leroy racing out at speed, Wess tried his luck by shooting from the top of the circle, he beat the goalkeeper but saw his strike go wide of the post. Dragons’ captain Thys had the chance to win it and made no mistake, firing a reverse stick shot inside the near post to break Koln hearts and send the Dragons fans wild.

It was tough on Koln who had played very well for large parts of the game, and will now have to pick themselves up for tomorrow’s 3rd place playoff match. Dragons however know they will better last year’s bronze medal and have a great chance of winning the Euro Hockey League when they face the winner of Amsterdam vs. Bloemendaal.

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