MHC Oranje Zwart made their way into the final of the Euro Hockey League with an excellent display to overcome KHC Dragons in a cauldron of noise here in Eindhoven. With Dragons, the runners up in last year’s EHL standing in their way OZ must have expected a stern test but the newly-crowned Dutch champions were excellent, picking up a 3-0 win to set up a clash with Harvestehuder in the final.
The game took a while to get going with both sides battling for control. The first real chance fell to Dragons, a ball in from the top of the D caused havoc in the home defence and came off Mark Jenniskens’ pads and back off the post where Mink van der Weerden reacted the quickest to clear the danger. Dragons has the first penalty corner chance of the game: Loick Luypaert was able to beat the goalkeeper with his drag flick but not Rashid Mehmood on the line who got a stick to the ball to divert it over the bar. Luypaert had another penalty corner just before the end of the quarter but this time Jenniskens did well and got a good strong glove on the ball to repel the chance.
The second quarter was all about OZ as the Dutch side responded to the test to put Dragons under pressure. Van Der Weerden’s penalty corner was blocked by Felix Denayer running out and then Thomas Briels got a deflection to the ball but it flew over the bar. Michel van de Heuvel’s side thought they’d taken the lead as Elliot van Strydonck’s cross was turned in. Umpire Christian Blasch thought an attacker got the touch but on referral it was correctly ruled out. Rizwan Muhammed’s silky skills and cross from the left carved a great opening for Niek van der Schoot but he shot wide from the top of the D. It looked like the sides were destined to go in locked at 0-0 at the break but right on the stroke of half time Rob Reckers escaped down the wing and got a cross in which found its way to Jelle Galema at the back post, who finished the chance to make it 1-0.
Five minutes after the re-start Oranje grabbed their second of the match. Bob de Voogd showed excellent skills to win a penalty corner and Van Der Weerden did the rest, ripping an unstoppable flick into the top corner via the goalkeeper’s glove.
With the lead now doubled OZ sat back to a half-court press, allowing Dragons the ball and aiming to pick them off on the counter. With the very last play of the quarter OZ scored the clinching goal. De Voogd’s pass down the left into the D found Gabriel Dabanch who made room before hitting a lovely reverse stick shot across the goal and past Manu Leroy.
Maxi Peeters threatened for Dragons in the opening exchanges of the fourth quarter but after a strong run and with the chance opening up for him he connected only with fresh air. Van Der Weerden had another penalty corner attempt but his low flick was brilliantly kept out by Leroy diving to his right and then the Dragons goalkeeper pulled off a smart stop to prevent Thomas Briels scoring after he had been played in by Sander Baart’s aerial. It mattered little to OZ as the home crowd counted the clock down and celebrated their place in the final.
Van der Weerden told The Top of the D: “We knew it would be a hard game, especially because they have a great back four. We had to get our tactics right to break them down, but we played really well. I think that’s what feels best, the performance; we did what we had spoken about before the game and carried out our gameplan to perfection.We did well to keep them out and to play to our plans. It was a really good team effort and that’s why the score wasn’t as close as maybe we thought it could have been. It’s amazing we have the chance to get the European title to add to the Dutch one. It won’t be easy but we’ll see how it goes.”
Dragons, last year’s runners up will now have to pick themselves up for the all Belgian affair in the third and fourth place play off whilst Van Der Weerden and his teammates will be aiming for a historic double when they line up against Harvestehuder in the final.