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Netherlands blend play with performance

August 1, 2018

As the Netherlands prepare for their quarter-final clash with host nation England, there will undoubtably be some nervousness among the players. This is where the business end of the Vitality Hockey Women's World cup starts for the Dutch, who are the reigning champions.

Pool matches saw them in imperious form as they swept aside Korea (World Ranking: 9) by a 7-0 scoreline. In beating China (WR:8) 7-1, they became the first team to score seven goals twice in one World Cup.

More history was made when they scored 12 against Italy (WR:17). The previous biggest score was 10-1 when West Germany beat Nigeria in 1978.

Now the Oranje will meet the host nation England in a top of the table clash between the teams sitting at one and two in the FIH Hero World Rankings. There is much history between the two hockey nations. England famously beat Netherlands at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre in the final of the 2015 EuroHockey Championships, while the Netherlands bossed the same tournament two years later on home turf. That win was part of a winning streak by the Dutch that goes back to the Olympic final in Rio 2016 – Oranje's last loss was to Great Britain, where eight of the current England squad were playing.

But pressure is something the Dutch thrive on and they know full well how to deal with it. Captain Carlien van den Heuvel has more than 200 caps to her name and is playing in her third world cup. She explains how pressure is dealt with by the squad.

"At the 2010 World Cup in Rosario, I was young and because of that I felt no pressure. It was my first big tournament and I was one of the new members of the squad. The pressure was on the older, more experienced members of the team, like Janneke Schopman and Minke Smeets."

"Yes, and now the pressure is on you far more," chipped in Xaan de Waard, who was just 18 when she played her first World Cup in the Hague in 2014.

"I think that I feel a certain amount of pressure but it is about my game. If I do more job, then I add value to the team. That is where my responsibility lies, but for Carlien, as captain and the experienced member of the team, she really feels the pressure for the whole team."

One of the new crop of talented Netherlands players is Frederique Matla. She agrees with de Waard that the only pressure on the younger squad members comes from within. "The leadership group take pressure on behalf of the team but they don't take my own pressure. It's not heavy but I am an attacker so I put pressure on myself, it is a responsibility I feel. You want to take your own responsibilities but the way our squad works, I don't feel that it is totally on me."

Despite her younger colleagues being in agreement that the captain and leadership group took much of the team responsibility on their shoulders, in truth during the interview van den Heuvel couldn't have looked more relaxed. She did concede that the match against the host nation is always tough.

"Yeah, but the crowd in London, they know hockey and while there might be a little 'booing' mostly it is good natured and we don't feel as if the crowd hate you."

This final point is in reference to the 2010 World Cup Final in Rosario where the huge stadium of Argentina fans gave the Netherlands team a taste of South American fandom.

"We got off the team bus and our coach said to us, 'go and enjoy it,'" says van den Heuvel. "We walked into the stadium and it was like everyone was our enemy. That was one of the most crazy atmospheres I have ever played in. But it was an amazing experience – playing Las Leonas in a final in Argentina is unbelievable."

One way that the team has dealt with pressure is by having fun and mixing their activities up. There have been very serious training and preparation sessions and the team of Dutch coaching staff are constantly at the Hockey Arena observing other teams, but there have been light moments too.

"We like to have fun," said Eva de Goede. "It is what makes the hockey so enjoyable. We have a lot of activities that are the 'young' players versus the 'old', and that is really good for team bonding and also relieving the pressure. It is a question of getting the right balance"

During one three day period between pool games, the team travelled to Bisham Abbey [home to England Hockey] for a training session and then spent time playing the traditional English game of croquet before enjoying a traditional 'high tea' of scones and jam.

"The 'old' team won," said Frederique Matla. "They mostly do," she added with a joking air of resignation.

The banter between the players gives away the fact that this is a squad of players who just enjoy what they do. In an earlier interview, van den Heuvel said she had decided against retirement from the game because she still enjoyed playing at this level so much.

And in an unsubstantiated rumour, it seems the Head Coach Alyson Annan isn't above lightening the mood in the camp. A person dressed as a Hockey Maker and looking suspiciously like the double gold medalist and Olympian was reported to have greeted the Dutch team as they boarded their team bus after a training session.

The Netherlands' next match in the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup is a quarter-final match with England at 20:15 on Thursday 2 August.


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