Terrassa — One of the great goals in Women’s World Cup history, finished with counter-attacking brilliance by Felice Albers, was witnessed on Sunday night as the Netherlands, without ever clicking into their usual all-domineering ‘Total Hockey’ procession over the last two weeks, finally turned on the style to win 3-1 and land a ninth title in 15 editions of the sport’s showpiece.
Leading 2-0 through first-half goals from Maria Verschoor and Frederique Matla, the moment of the tournament, hell, any tournament, arrived in the 36th minute of the collective Oranje’s seventh final in a row as a near 7,000 largely Argentinian support bayed for a mountainous fightback.
What followed will remain etched in the memory for those in attendance here. Camped in their own 23m, three Oranje – Verschoor, Yibbi Jansen and Eva de Goede – quickly formed an inter-changing triangle within yards of each other to evade danger. De Goede wriggled from trouble, outletting to Freeke Moes. Now it was on to Albers, who let fly deep into the Argentinian half. She still had work to do, but her pace was too much for Valentina Costa as she glided into the circle and drove past the sprawling Belen Succi. The hero of Argentina’s campaign here, playing her last match in Las Leonas colours, could only fall back to her left as their hopes faded.
A third World Cup title was sealed, not even an hour after it had been paraded out to the Estadi Olimpico turf accompanied by Gladiator-like music. The sight of a line of orange atop the podium was looming large.
For the talk before this final was whether Argentina could summon the energy reserves after edging Germany in their shoot-out semi-finals.
Two PC chances wide in the opening 90 seconds and an early green card to Julieta Jankunas for a shoulder push suggested that Las Leonas were up to the challenge. But a composed Oranje were finding possession, width and smart interchanges notably from Xan de Waard to Albers.
Succi had yet to be called into action. That soon changed with the Netherlands’ first corner chance. With Matla lurking behind the castle, the injection went to Jansen, whose shot was smothered by Succi. But her first touch of the game could only land into Verschoor’s path. Having been axed for the London 2018 squad, Verschoor wasn’t going to miss the goal line tap-in and her third of the tournament.
It was yet cruise control but a second Dutch PC, this time from Matla, had Succi comfortably deflecting away a mid-height flick. Pien Sanders was lurking close by but couldn’t force a stick block to set up Oranje’s second.
That came moments later, in the 24th minute, when Matla latched onto Laurrien Leurink’s free central pass and dispatched a trademark backhand past Succi.
Argentina, who lacked the passing pedigree, just couldn’t find a way into the Dutch 23m. The Oranje were outsetting with ease, either pushing centrally or players going wide to counter. There were options aplenty, more so with mounting turnover balls.
Verschoor nearly tipped in from Oranje’s third PC before Matla went down in the circle on the stroke of half-time, the video referral staying with the umpire’s original corner decision. Succi stick-saved from Matla’s low flick and the heavy-legged Las Leonas were left needing a miracle turnaround.
The briefly threatened at the start of the third, camping inside the Dutch 23, where occurred, in the 37th minute, that moment of De Goede-led magic. It was the kind of goal to round off the night as if Argentina were going for broke. In reality it was a goal rubber-stamped by the Dutch as the skilful Las Leonas pressed, with belief they were still in the final.
Agustina Gorzelany did indeed lift the ‘home’ support at the start of the final 15 minutes, going high with her third PC effort past Anne Veenendaal. It was her eighth of the tournament. A second in quick succession and the gladiator riposte would have set the Olympic stadium into a frenzy. But not on this night. A night where outgoing Jamilon Mulders ended as a world champion coach.
The Dutch, composed all 60 minutes, failed to budge and the sting was taken out of the last five minutes. They still hold the triple title of Euro, world and Olympic champions. And done so largely in third gear. All barring their 10-second piece of Terrassa turbo charge.