Five group stage wins on the bounce against a stuttering progression to the semi-finals which included only two wins out of a possible five. This was the basic facts that overshadowed the Men’s Hockey tournament between The Netherlands and Great Britain.
The overwhelming odds were with the Dutch, there wouldn’t have been any argument from anyone in the stadium if the men from the Netherlands had walked their way to the final and leaving a British team floundering in the wake. Truth be told this was possibly the strongest opposition that Great Britain had faced so far at this year’s Olympics. If they were to go and meet Germany in the final on Saturday then this would require one of the finest and herculean efforts by the team.
It wasn’t exactly a nervous start by the British team; it also wasn’t a show of strength either from the home side. A couple of early probing runs at goal by Jackson and Hawes showed the potential that was in the team. A moment of panic in the British defence saw Valentin Verga run through the British defence and if not for the quick thinking of Fair in goal, the British would have been facing an uphill task with ten minutes gone.
That task was almost inevitably proved to be daunting as from a penalty corner; the Dutch team went one up as Weusthof stroked the ball home emphatically. The British team once again were guilty of being outplayed and out thought from set pieces. The trouble has lain in the defence and against the Dutch; you can’t afford to switch off.
With 15 minutes gone the Dutch again got a penalty corner and the result was exactly the same as the previous one. Too lax, too nervous perhaps, the weight of national expectation to see a home victory to match that of Seoul in 1988 praying heavily on their minds, either way it looked as if the British team had nothing to offer in terms of resistance.
If the British defence has been suspect all the through the tournament then the forward line, especially the indomitable spirit of Ashley Jackson, has dug the team out of many holes, particularly in the game against the Australians where they came back to draw three all. Ashley Jackson received the ball from Britain’s first penalty corner and swept the ball into the Dutch net, a goal that gave Britain hope.
The trouble with hope in a sporting sense is it can backfire so very quickly and in the quick field game of hockey, hope disappears quicker than a sentence can be written. Another penalty corner, yet another goal to the men from the Netherlands and as matches go; poor James Fair was on the receiving end of being blamed for goals that really should have been dealt with a lot quicker than were so.
With three minutes left on the clock before the half time hooter, the Dutch used the ball so effectively through the field that the British team were stretched out of position and with consummate ease Billy Bakker was able to put the game almost beyond doubt with an excellent and well placed goal.
As with the women’s team the night before, the men found themselves with such an uphill battle that in the end it may just have been better to play for pride, to give this incredible Dutch side something to think about. What was uncomfortable to watch was the sight of dissent when arguing against referral decisions. It has crept into the modern game and like football it has the feel of harassment towards the officials. It is not welcome and it is not needed in modern sport.
Dissent aside the second half continued in much the similar vein as the first half as the Netherland continued to dominate as first Bakker then De Nooijer and then Evers scored in rapid succession to give the Dutch a seven-one lead.
Even the most patriotic and positive British supporter could not now say Britain had a chance of getting through to the final now. Every member of the squad and management looked shell shocked; the night was made infinitely worse by the third goal by the supreme playing of Bakker. Losing 8-1 is bad but with 20 minutes to play this was the realms of humiliation, total and utter humiliation that has not been felt for a long, long time. Not since Great Britain lost to the might of Pakistan in Athens had British Hockey looked so dire, so in need of a radical overhaul.
For the British fans in the crowd, they should be congratulated for keeping up the encouragement, cheering every time there even looked like a sniff of a decent pass from the home side. With six minutes left on the clock, a British breakthrough as Robert Moore lunged goal wards and was able to give the home side a real reason to cheer and the light hearted humour of British humour as they started to sing “ You’re not singing anymore” to their friendly Dutch rivals.
Crucial decisions on the night cost Great Britain dear and it was with no surprise to the fans in the Riverbank Arena to see a ninth goal go in in the British net. In parts Britain worked hard, but there was no way that, being kind, that they could control this incredible Dutch side that must be now odds-on favourites to lift gold.
Great Britain: Kirkham, Jackson, Moore, Hawes, Wilson, Middleton, Tindall, Mackay, Lewers, Fair, Smith.
Substitutes: Martin, Daly, Clarke, Catlin, Fox.
Manager: Andy Halliday.
Netherlands: Stockmann, Vermeulen, Jolie, Bakker, Kemperman, De Nooijer, Evers, De Wijn, Hofman, Van Der Horst, Van Der Weerden.
Substitutes: Balkestein, Weusthof, Baart, De Voogd, Verga.
Manager: Jan Verboom.
Final Score: Great Britain 2 -9 Netherlands
Goal Scorers. Great Britain: Jackson, Moore. The Netherlands: Weusthof (3), Van Der Weerden, Bakker (3) Evers, De Nooijer
Ian D. Hall