Monchengladbach — First a thunder delay, then a lengthy, confusing and controversial deliberation between umpires halted England’s bid to win a first major final for 14 years, as the Netherlands somehow weathered the storms from upstairs to win their seventh EuroHockey men’s title in dramatic circumstances on Sunday.
With the Dutch leading 2-1 and England launching a series of late assaults on the Oranje goal, Phil Roper scored with four minutes left before all clarity left this final. In a five-minute back and forth between umpire and video umpire – this after a 40-minute delay for adverse weather as the players came out for the second-half – we saw England’s equaliser first stand, before being overruled for a free out, then a penalty corner decided and, ultimately, a decision taken to award a penalty stroke.
Nick Bandurak twice missed from the spot after Maurits Visser saved to his right and then left, but only after each effort had been reviewed by England with the Dutchman moving early. The second review fell in his favour over a lifted boot before he was able to move legally and sprint out of goal on the hooter, as the Dutch held out for gold and an automatic Olympic ticket.
For England? Silver will be seen as a major step forward but the ending to this final will feel anything but after the bizarre dialogue exchanges, which the players hadn’t been able to hear.
“It’s a tough one to take,” Sam Ward said later. “We don’t know what was said but it seemed interesting at the time. But we are silver medallists and if you had offered that after the World Cup we would have snapped your hand off. Yes, we wanted gold but we are building and we are getting there.”
As it was, the final mayhem may have been averted had Brendan Creed not near swallowdived heroically as last man to keep out and deflect a Dutch break, England having taken off Ollie Payne in goal with eight minutes still to play.
A contrasting tale of two halves then. The opening exchanges saw ever present Joep de Mol find some early gears in the first quarter, and was deeply involved in the first chance for the Dutch when his pass looped into Thierry Brinkman’s path. He managed to just get a stick to carry his momentum but Payne’s diving legs staved off any chance.
The Dutch had been notably eager in their encounters and it garnered their opener when Derck de Vilder carried into the circle. Terrance Pieters hit the post and the rebound fell to the on running De Vilder, who tapped in for his first EuroHockey goal.
England did hold ball retention thereafter and their first PC came with it. From the breakdowns came an English foot and a Dutch roar as the hooter sounded.
Floris Wortelboer nearly doubled the lead with the first counter of the second quarter, his 3D skills leaving Payne grounded and then gloving away as he got his lift in.
England were, though, holding the Dutch from continual possession, switching and using width and baseline runs well enough. Still, the Oranje were getting chances deep in the circle, Koen Bijen the latest to snatch his shot close up to Payne.
So too were England, but for all the crash balls and searching for a Dutch foot, they couldn’t find the elusive final shot or circle space.
The Dutch had amassed 11 penalty corners without scoring before Sunday’s final. They also have a young squad with a new coach, Jeroen Delmée, and they looked inexperienced at the World Cup. They were also missing key man, Tjep Hoedemakers, their fluid attacker from Rotterdam and who was the most used player in Delmée’s squad up until the Euros.
The Oranje’s first PC here couldn’t be trapped, while the pass back in after the breakdown had England in trouble with four Dutch free of markers. Pieters’ lift went wide.
A drop in temperature came when the players emerged after the adverse weather break. How would both teams combat what was effectively now a 30-minute shoot-out for gold?
With the aerial. After James Gall’s direct aerial was intercepted, the Dutch countered and Jip Janssen switched long and high to Tijmen Reyenga, who dragged immediately into the circle for Duco Telgenkamp to slot home in the 51st minute.
A compact defence was keeping England at bay at the other end, hopeful slaps the order of the day. That is until 70 seconds into the final quarter with David Goodfield and Ward lurking deep. Nick Park finally found a telling ball to Ward who touched home from one yard out.
Tension mounted as England pressed and both teams highly vocal. With nine minutes left, Ward entered the fray and Payne left the pitch. England had rolled the dice early.
Meanwhile Creed timed his dive to perfection. With the ball loose and Oranje countering, De Vilder went free with only Creed to beat. The England defender lunged forward and stick saved brilliantly to deflect clear. “What a block and it allowed us to get back in the game,” captain David Ames said later.
England countered and found a route to the baseline; Roper carrying towards goal and then receiving back after a lift into the crowded area and he squeezed home. The Dutch went for a review for a high ball. First, the time taken for the Dutch to review came into play. Both officials were happy.
Alison Keogh, in the video booth, was then happy for the goal to stand on intial review. Then a dangerous ball and stick tackle came into play after on field umpire Ben Goentgen had questioned Keogh’s original decision. A free out was pondered. Then a penalty corner. Goentgen wanted a penalty stroke, the final act.
The drama didn’t stop there, with England finishing with their own thunder. Twice Visser saved from Bandurak’s strokes, the first gloved to his right, the second padded to his left. Not even a second review for Visser moving early could prevent more delays. The save stood.
With the next phase an England shot saw Will Calnan hit in the mouth from a rebound. England then had three corner chances, all cleared, before the Dutch could celebrate in the most dramatic way possible and leaving GB to qualify for Paris 2024 in January.