By Rod Gilmour | Antwerp
While assessing England’s European tilt and their bid to regain the trophy they won so thrillingly in London four years ago, Hollie Pearne-Webb looked beyond the Wilrijkse Plein Stadium here and cast her eyes towards the Crowne Plaza hotel in the distance.
It was there that England stayed during their 2013 Euro sojourn. They beat Holland that day in a semi-final shoot-out, a match Pearne-Webb played in. But England’s captain didn’t dwell on that hockey omen as a catalyst for success on Friday night – they are staying in the same hotel – as they attempt to go one step closer to the Olympic ticket to Tokyo.
Instead, the 28-year-old trainee accountant dismissed the statistical numbers stacking up against England and revealed that the world champion Dutch are beatable and may have lost some of their mettle since walking to the 2018 World Cup.
These two rival nations have met at this stage or the final in the last four editions, with both sides winning twice. England have won just two of their last 10 matches since 2010, while their last victor in normal time came in 2003.
However, England’s two victories have come at the EuroHockey – both in shoot-outs – their last in the 2015 final and then in the 2013 semi-final.
“It’s the mental thing that we have with them, where we will never roll over and always be in it regardless of the score line and time in the game,” she added.
“The top seven or eight sides can now beat anyone,” added Pearne-Webb. “They aren’t walking over sides like they have done but we need to respect them. The Dutch realise the gap is closing from the Pro League results and here. It makes it more exciting and more crucial.”
Although they are world-class finishers inside the circle and have a midfield rock, Pearne-Webb stated that it’s the defence which is the key to Alyson Annan’s side.
“They see them as a finishing side but their main strength is their team defence,” she said. “They don’t really have an area as a weakness. Maybe it’s GB and England in that we are always going to be in for a physical fight and never give up.
“It’s the mental thing that we have with them, where we will never roll over and always be in it regardless of the score line and time in the game.”
GB played some of their best Pro League hockey against Holland as Mark Hager’s tenure began to take hold. The two games were largely even affairs, suggesting that the mental stranglehold still exists since two of GB hockey’s finest nights, in 2015 in London and a year later in Rio.
“We are a team who never fear the Dutch when we reach them at this stage and other teams might avoid them,” she said. “They aren’t walking over sides like they have done but we need to respect them.
“It’s not a ‘gosh, we’ve got them’, we revel in the challenge as the world No 1 side. It will be a fight.”
Germany will take on Spain in the second semi-final. The world bronze medallists, coached by Englishman Adrian Lock, continue to defy the rankings under increasing funding problems.
Spain will be right up for the battle after the men reached their first final since 2007 in Manchester following a thoroughly deserved 4-3 win over Holland.
Hollie Pearne-Webb revealed that England will have Alex Danson in their thoughts after the talismanic forward and usual captain sent good luck messages ahead of their semi-final clash.
Pearne-Webb has led England and GB teams since Danson’s traumatic brain injury last year.
“Alex has been great even though she is recovering and she needs certain things for herself to get back to hockey,” she added. “She’s been a tremendous help and is always there on the end of a phone.”
“She’s been great even though she is recovering and she needs certain things for herself to get back to hockey, she’s been a tremendous help in the process of her being injured and me taking over.
“I would never attempt to be like her, as she is an incredible person all round. It’s similar with Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh and I’ve had a really good support network.”