All things being equal, this was probably the best final possible. The Olympic gold medal holders against the best team in the competition, Germany V the Netherlands, the tension and the excitement were palpable and electric. No matter the sport, no matter the tournament, The Netherlands V Germany is a fixture that has history, a little slice of the needle that makes sport so interesting and vital.
As the two national anthems rang out over the Riverbank Arena, there couldn’t have been anyone who present inside the arena or watching on television around the world who was not chomping at the bit and eager for the game to start.
With both teams having scored such wonderful goals during the tournament, the romantic fan would have secretly hoped for a shed load of goals at both ends and some cracking individual stick work added into the final mix. This though can back fire on the armchair fan whose expectations have been raised by what they have seen. In reality, unless the Germans became very sloppy, were they going to ship nine goals in a major final? This was to be perhaps the most perfect game of hockey in the tournament and one that might be decided by a single goal. Only 70 minutes of play would tell.
The first half typified that perfect shut out at all costs mentality by the two sides, no quarter given and each side probing, searching for an early answer. The first penalty corner of the match with seven minutes left to play on the clock fell to the Dutch but the Germans had done their homework on their opposition and ran out quickly to snuff out any chance on goal.
Out of nothing came the breakthrough and it was in the end that was least expected, Jan Phillip Rabente skirted round three players and he lifted the ball over the despairing dive of Stockmann in the Netherland’s goal to give the German team a half time lead.
Anyone of Dutch extraction would have been nervous as the team came out onto the field, this was unchartered territory, somewhere in this Olympics they had become unbeatable, a team that knew no fear and were just playing the hockey equivalent of total football. Dutch hearts would have been beating hard as they urged their team on from the second half hooter to emulate their women’s team and win gold. No country at an Olympic Games had done the double. Since 1980, when the women’s game was introduced, no country had seen both its women and men succeed in the same games.
If the first half was cagey, bossed in midfield then the second half took it the extreme, each side having the occasional shot on goal, the clumsy miss pass and show of brilliance that was worthy of a final, however aside from one shot hitting the post, there was nothing to suggest that the score would change.
Never write of the Dutch though, give them even the briefest glimpse, a sniff of a goal from a set piece and they will punish you. Two quick penalty corners, two chances to get the ball in the net, the men from the Netherlands don’t need asking a third time. Van Der Weerden doesn’t often miss and he made sure that the game would have an interesting last 15 minutes as the Netherlands drew level on the night.
In perhaps the most bizarre sight of the night Rabente put the Germans back ahead with five minutes left. As the shot came in, Rabente went off the pitch, ran round the back of the goal and to the other post and poked in the rebound. In a move that is typical in Ice Hockey but never played in the field version, Rabente’s quick thinking may have been one of the outstanding moments of the tournament. It was enough to secure the Germans holding on to their Olympic gold, a superb if tight final and one that would grace any Olympic Games.
Germany: Mueller, Haener, Fuersta, Hauke, Wess B, Korn, Zeller, Weinhold, Witthaus, Fuchs, Zeller.
Substitutes: Deecke, Wesley, Rabente, Wess T, Stralkowski.
Manager: Jochen Heimpel.
The Netherlands: Stockmann, Jolie, Bakker, Kemperman, Baart, De Nooijer, Evers, De Wijn, Hofman, Van Der Horst, Van Der Weerden.
Substitutes: Jenniskens, Balkestein, Weusthof, De Voogd, Verga.
Manager: Jan Verboom.
Final Score: Germany 2-1 The Netherlands.
Goal scorers: Rabente(2)(Germany). Van Der Weerden (The Netherlands)
Ian D. Hall