Goalkeeper Maddie Hinch was England’s hero as they won a tense shootout competition against the Netherlands to prevent the Dutch reaching the final of this competition for the first time since 1991.
Hinch saved five times in the shootout, including the decisive final effort from Roos Drost to set up a return match with old rivals Germany.
England spent much of the first half on the back foot as the Dutch forced a series of penalty corners. The first of these was flicked goalwards by Maartje Paumen but Hinch was equal to the task and got her glove to the ball, diving right and repelling the danger. Paumen was able to try her luck twice more from penalty corners in quick succession but Ashleigh Ball was out like lightning to block the World Player of the Year’s efforts and the England goal remained intact. With Paumen off the field but no let up in the penalty corners, Kim Lammers chanced her arm but she too was frustrated by Hinch’s athleticism as the England goalkeeper dived low to her right and saved the No.23’s flick.
England were finding it hard to mount any meaningful attacks as the Dutch’s high press put them under pressure and didn’t allow them the time and space to find the right passes. England’s brightest moments were coming from Lily Owsley, the 18 year old showing yet again she isn’t afraid to take defenders on, sometimes taking 2 or 3 players to halt her progress.
England’s best move of the first period came from some excellent link up play entering the Dutch half, Susannah Townsend played a good pass into the D where Owsley drew a fine block out of Joyce Sombroek.
The Dutch started the second half brightly. Kitty van Male drove from left to right in the D but Hinch was there once more to clear the danger.
On 40 minutes, England took a surprise lead. Sally Walton hit a hard cross in from the right and with Owsley lurking Willemijn Bos diverted the ball past Sombroek and gently over the line. Moments later it was almost 2-0. A carbon copy of Walton’s earlier cross found a diving Ashleigh Ball but her deflection hit the goalkeeper from point blank range and fell safe.
England were growing in confidence and whilst the high press used by the Dutch still caused them some problems they were now mounting attacks of their own and putting their illustrious opponents under pressure too.
With 52 minutes gone, Holland drew level. Kim Lammers mis-trapped the ball in the D but it fell invitingly for Eva De Goede, the No.24 needed no second invitation and hit a bullet reverse stick shot into the roof of the net giving Hinch no chance.
Ball squandered a glorious chance when put through by Walton and at the other end Hinch made yet another fine low save from a Paumen penalty corner as the minutes ticked by.
The game was held up as England lost Sally Walton to a freak injury and what looked like a suspected broken ankle. The Bowdon Hightown star left on a stretcher in some distress. England steeled themselves and despite some intense Dutch pressure held out to take the game to a shootout.
England’s goalkeeper went to the touchline immediately to read a little red notebook, clearly with some pointers for the shootout. It paid dividends as she saved first from De Goede and then brilliantly from Paumen. Walsh smashed the ball into Sombroek’s pads inbetween, but Alex Danson made no mistake, driving to the keeper’s right before smashing a trademark reverse stick shot in to make it 1-0 to England.
Hinch saved from Ellen Hoog but Sombroek kept out Unsworth as the drama increased with every moment. Roos Drost levelled it up, taking Hinch right, then left and firing in on the reverse. Georgie Twigg missed and then the pressure ramped up as Bos made it 2-1. Up stepped Helen Richardson, using all her experience to calmly slot a shot under Sombroek to take us to sudden death.
Richardson was first in sudden death but this time she shot from the top of the D and was denied by Sombroek. De Goede went next and changed from her usual long range blast but her effort was saved by Hinch. Danson scored with an almost exact replica of her first effort and it was matchpoint England. The pressure was too much for Drost who overran the ball and allowed Hinch to clear, sparking jubilant scenes on the field.
The Dutch are all too familiar with the heartbreak of a shootout defeat, having lost the World League in Rotterdam in the same fashion just a month or so ago. Although they will feel they had the better of the game, including a number of penalty corners, when the pressure was on, uncharacteristically they were found wanting.
Jason Lee has talked at length about the grit, character, togetherness and determination his side has in spades. All of those qualities helped them as they ground out a famous win under extreme pressure. Obviously having a world class goalkeeper is quite useful, too!