Euro Hockey League – KO16; HC Rotterdam, March 30 – April 2, 2018
Herakles and SV Kampong will meet in the FINAL4 of the Euro Hockey League following another enthralling day of action at the KO16 in Rotterdam in front of another big crowd.
Herakles’ fairytale story in the EHL continues as they won a dramatic shoot-out against Real Club de Polo to advance, winning out in sudden death.
For Nico de Kerpel, he got to score the winner, bouncing back from the depths of despair of missing in the final round of the regulation series to score in the third round of sudden death, eventually winning it 7-6.
“This is crazy,” de Kerpel said of the moment, one which he got to celebrate with the fans of the club he has been part of since he was four years old.
“It’s the craziest thing that’s happened to me for our club. I hope we are going to have a lot of support because a lot of ours were on holiday so we will have even more and we will make it one hell of a holiday!”
Normal time had ended 1-1 with both sides nailing penalty corners, Borja Llorens scoring his second of the weekend before Amaury Keusters followed up to equalise in the second half.
In the early stages, Polo looked the more likely to get up and running with a series of backhand shots that either went over or were saved by Amaury Timmermans, keeping the scoreboard blank at the break.
The deadlock was broken seconds into the second half with Llorens firing in from the left angle for a great opener. Timmermans then was required to keep out an excellent Max Plennevaux shot with his knee.
But Herakles kept on pressing forward and got their reward in the 40th minute when Keusters was in the right place to flick into the net.
That meant a shoot-out in which Herakles had the early advantage when Timmermans saved brilliantly with his stick but it ended at 4-4 when de Kerpel’s shot rolled onto the post.
Two more rounds were scored before Llorenc Piera scuffed a shot wide and de Kerpel had his chance to win it, flipping to his reverse and firing home.
“I was really down after the first shoot-out,” de Kerpel added. “The guys asked if I wanted to take a second one and I told them if they missed, I would go up and take my chance the second time. I was so happy I got a second chance because it’s not something you get everyday.”
SV Kampong were the first side to make it through to the EHL FINAL4 as they got the better of Royal Racing Club de Bruxelles in a dramatic and controversial tie.
The 2016 champions won out 4-1 with a key moment being when Quirijn Caspers got the opening field goal. Racing looked set to clear the ball but it bounced off umpire Marcin Grochal and straight into the gleeful path of Caspers who had the simplest job to touch it over the line.
Up to that point, Racing had the slight upper hand with Tommy Willems seeing his shot incredibly cleared off the line in the third minute. Then came that unique goal in the ninth minute that put Racing on the back foot.
They did halve the deficit in the ninth minute from a powerful Conor Harte drag-flick, beating his twin brother David, to make it 2-1.
But the game was ultimately settled when Bjorn Kellerman got off a shot from the top of the circle to pick out the bottom corner in the 28th minute for a 4-1 lead.
Racing had corner chances and openings to reduce the gap but Kampong stayed out of range for all of the second half, making it through to the FINAL4 for the second time in three seasons.
Speaking afterwards, David and Conor Harte reacted to their personal battle, the Irish twins meeting each other in opposition for a rare occasion.
“Everyone was making a bit more of a fuss of it than we were,” David said. “We are both professional players. It’s a nice story for journalists – it’s not often you have twin brothers playing against each other on this stage and at this level. There was a smile on her face when we crossed over before the match and leaving it.
Conor added ruefully: “At least we knew one Harte was going off the pitch in the semi-final. It’s better than last year when we both went out one after the other in the KO16.
As for the freak goal that gave Kampong the lead, Conor said: “When it’s not your day, it’s not your day.
“We weren’t clinical enough in the circle, got in there enough, probably more than Kampong. They were more clinical and the soft goals conceded. We had our chances.”
Earlier in the day, Atletic Terrassa and Dinamo Kazan won their EHL ranking matches against Holcombe and Rot-Weiss Koln respectively, winning out 8-4 and 10-8 in high scoring ties.
Monday sees the last two places in the FINAL4 decided with HC Bloemendaal taking on Saint Germain in the first match at 13.45 (CET) before HC Rotterdam close out the weekend against Uhlenhorst Mulheim at 16.00.
Imgages: Frank Uijlenbroek/World Sport Pics/EHL