Tuesday, April 23, 2024

At the Women’s Hockey World Cup, Holland has plenty to savour

THP Analysis

The Vitality Women’s World Cup opening games have already seen shock results and teams staking their title claims.

Italy (ranked 17) laid their own claim to the surprise result of the tournament so far with their 3-0 win over China (8).

While, statistically, the result is virtually identical to Ireland (16) beating USA (7), much has been expected of China since the highly-regarded German coach Jami Mulders took over following the EuroHockey Championships in 2017.

Goals were the order of the day on day two with seven from the Dutch, six from Argentina and four from New Zealand, sending a clear message as to the quality of those teams.

After taking an early lead, New Zealand (4) were 2-1 down at half-time to a vastly improved Belgium (13) but Mark Hager will no doubt be delighted with their composed and efficient second half response.

The Black Sticks have been one of the world’s top four teams for a long time but it may well be that their victory at the Commonwealth Games has given them the confidence and self-belief to go to a higher level. They certainly looked that way in their opening match, albeit without the swagger.

Maria Paula Ortiz scored the best of Sunday’s 24 goals, sticking one from the top of the circle “up where the owls live” in Argentina’s (3) comfortable 6-2 win over Spain (11).

Luciana Aymar is, of course, irreplaceable, but four years since her retirement and Las Leonas are making a pretty good go of it.

Spain have made good progress in recent years on the back of a well organised and tough defence.

Argentina’s four field goals tell you that they have plenty of forward threat to go along with Noel Barrionuevo’s penalty corners.

One of the biggest talking point among the coaches, though, was the subtle statement from the tournament favourites.

In a performance described to me by coach Alyson Annan as “pretty good”, The Netherlands eased through the gears to score seven past Korea without conceding.

For the Dutch, the impressive score line is notable as much for the players that aren’t at the tournament as those that played so well yesterday.

With players of the quality and experience of Maria Verschoor not selected, the Dutch face a challenge unique to any other team with the depth they have.

Ever the diplomat, Annan declined to provide an exact number but instead described their squad having “plenty” of players capable of coming into this team and performing at the same level.

Going through the names, “plenty” is at least six and could be higher. That’s at least double or even triple the two or three really tough choices that most other teams have to make.

And if the prospect of knocking the Dutch off their world No 1 ranking wasn’t daunting enough, the new FIH Pro League, will only make them stronger.

According to Annan, not only will they be able to give their current group more opportunities, but they’ll also be able to bring in some of the talented juniors that would otherwise have to wait their turn.

Thankfully that’s at least one thing their next opponent – Jami Mulders and his Chinese team – don’t have to worry about.

The Hockey Paper’s World Cup coverage is supported by St. Bert’s Clothing – SUMMER SALE

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