Hockey WC 2018 semifinal: Australia vs Netherlands preview
Australia vs Netherlands was expected by many to be the final match of the Hockey World Cup 2018 but it’s coming one stage earlier in the tournament. The two teams have a great record in the World Cup with Australia looking to become the world champions for the third time in a row and Netherlands playing the semi-finals of this prestigious event for the eight time.
It would be fair to say that Australia go into the match as the favorites. They have won every single match in the tournament so far and haven’t lost a World Cup game since the preliminary stage of the 2010 World Cup.
While the Netherlands started this World Cup with a bang defeating Malaysia 7-0 in their opening game, they suffered a big setback in their next game with a 1-4 loss to Germany. However, their form has returned to get them in the last four.
As two top teams with rich histories and a long-standing rivalry, this match should be entertaining. Let’s preview this game by analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the two teams and looking at the dynamics that could affect the result of the game.
1. Attacking quality of both teams
Netherlands play a very fast attacking game but in their quarterfinal against India, this attacking game was far from perfect. They were playing at a very fast pace but in the process were sacrificing accuracy at the altar of speed. The number of mis-passes was huge and there was a great scarcity of well-constructed attacks and incisive play inside the ‘D.’
Australia, on the other hand, play a more measured game and are more patient in the way they build attacks. They may not have won matches by big margins (except for the one against China), but are solid in their midfield play and rarely make elementary mistakes. This is an area where they clearly have an advantage over their opponents.
2. Penalty corner conversions
One area where both the teams are well-endowed, is penalty-corner specialists. While Australia have the leading scorer in this tournament so far in Blake Govers, the Dutch team have Mink van der Weerden. Both are excellent exponents of the drag flick and can play a crucial role for their respective teams.
3. Key players
Both teams have some quality players in their ranks who can impact the outcome of the match. Netherlands are led by the veteran Billy Bakker who manages the team brilliantly from his position in the midfield. What has made the Dutch so effective in this tournament has been the strength of their attacking players like Jeroen Hertzberger and Valentin Verga.
However, the form of their center forward and their most effective striker Mirco Pruyser has been disappointing. He hasn’t made much of a mark in this event so far and has looked out of color. Therefore, it has been players like Hertzberger along with other efficient midfielders and attackers such as Robert Kemperman, Thierry Brinkman and Seve van Ass that have been making a mark through their aggressive play.
Australia on the other hand would depend on the brilliance of Jake Whetton in their front-line, who would be assisted by other skilled and speedy players like Tom Craig, Eddie Ockendon, Aran Zalewski and Trent Mitton.
Many of these players are key in dominating the midfield which has been Australia’s strength in this tournament. The Kookaburras also posses a solid defence with players like Matthew Swann and Jake Harvie leading the way. Netherlands, who struggled to break down the Indian defence, will have to work even harder on their attacking game to beat the very precise defence of Australia.
4. Form of the Teams
In 2014, Australia were so dominant in their World Cup win that beating them seemed impossible for any team. But by the time the 2016 Olympics came around, they were going through a difficult patch due to retirement of key players and failed to go past the quarterfinal stage.
But they started peaking at the right time and by winning the Hockey World League last year and following it with Champions Trophy and Azlan Shah titles, they came into the event as the top-ranked side as well as the favorites. While they haven’t scored prolifically in the tournament and were struggling to assert themselves over England, their 11-0 decimation of China showed that turning the afterburners on is well within their ability. In short, they have been clinical and effective.
Netherlands swung from a magnificent display in their opening game to a big loss to Germany. Their game still needs some improvement and against Australia they can’t afford to be as loose as they were in their forward push against India. Also, their defence, weakened by the injury of Sander de Wijn, has to be more stout against the likes of Whetton and Zalewski.