The race to secure an all-important top four finish in the FIH Pro League continued on Tuesday (4 June), with the Netherlands women taking a narrow win over Germany before the Dutch men claimed two points from a possible three by winning a shoot-out against New Zealand at HC Oranje-Rood in Eindhoven.
The Netherlands women took a huge stride towards confirming a top four finish – which comes with tickets to June’s FIH Pro League Grand Final in Amsterdam and the FIH Olympic qualifiers which take place later thi year – with a hard-earned 2-1 victory over Germany. Frederique Matla and Caia van Maasakker were on target for the hosts before Pia Maertens reduced the deficit to set up a tense finish, with the Dutch holding on to secure all three points. The Oranje remain top of the women’s FIH Pro League standings having claimed 90 percent of the points available to them, with Germany currently occupying fifth position with 51.52 percent. To see the current women’s FIH Pro League standings, click here.
The Netherlands men could not quite match the three points claimed by their female compatriots, but did take a valuable bonus point from their meeting with New Zealand after regular time finished with the score locked at 0-0. Goalkeeper Pirmin Blaak produced a Player of the Match performance in the shoot-out, making three saves to move the Dutch back into the top four in the FIH Pro League standings. The Netherlands now sit fourth, having claimed 51.85 percent of the available points. To see the current men’s FIH Pro League standings, click here.
The Netherlands (FIH World Ranking: 1) versus Germany (WR:5) women’s match opened proceedings in Eindhoven, with the Oranje looking to complete an FIH Pro League double over Die Danas following their 1-0 triumph, courtesy of Frederique Matla’s third minute strike, in Monchengladbach in April. Matla needed just six minutes to open the scoring in this contest, exchanging passes with Laurien Leurink seconds after Germany had lost possession deep in their own territory before passing into an unguarded goal to give the world champions an early advantage.
The Netherlands controlled the majority of the opening two periods but failed to extend their lead ahead of half time, giving the visiting Germans more than a glimmer of hope against the hosts. Germany looked threatening in the early stages of the period, but the Dutch soon found their groove again would have extended their advantage where it not for an instinctive penalty corner save from goalkeeper Nathalie Kubalski, who touched Matla’s goal-bound deflection onto the post.
Dutch doubled their lead 31 seconds into the fourth and final quarter thanks to
the ever-reliable penalty corner drag-flicking ability of Caia van Maasakker,
who arrowed an unstoppable effort into the top left corner of the goal.
However, Germany were quick to respond, with Pia Maertens getting ahead of her
marker to touch home from close range with 12 minutes of the match remaining.
The strike set up a dramatic finish, with the visitors replacing goalkeeper
Kubalski with an outfield player to ramp up the pressure on their opponents.
However, despite late chances for Germany, it was the Netherlands who claimed
their ninth win in ten FIH Pro League matches to move one step closer to a
place in the Grand Final competition at the end of this month.
“It was pretty hot today, but I think we started very well in the first quarter but the second quarter was a bit lazy from our side, I guess”, said Dutch ace Xan de Waard, who was named Player of the Match. “It was nice that Caia scored [to make it] 2-0, that gave us a little bit of air. But we got a goal against us out of nowhere and we made it really difficult for ourselves, which was unnecessary. But it’s fine because we won.”
New Zealand men (WR:8) arrived in Eindhoven sitting at the bottom of the FIH Pro League standings and still searching for their first win of the competition. They faced a Netherlands (WR:3) side that defeated them 4-3 in January’s reverse fixture in Auckland, but one that came into the match on the back of a 3-1 home loss against Great Britain and sat fifth in the league table. The Black Sticks sensed an upset and were arguably the better side the in the opening period, with Hugo Inglis looking constantly threatening and Nick Ross forcing Netherlands goalkeeper Sam van der Ven into a fine save with a brilliant run and shot.
The Netherlands improved in both the second and third quarters, with Billy Bakker having arguably their best chance when he was put through on goal by Mirco Pruijser but failed to find the finishing touch before New Zealand’s Jacob Smith missed a huge chance at the other end of the field, firing a pass from Inglis wide of the target with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Black Sticks goalkeeper George Enersen made numerous crucial interventions in the final quarter to keep the dominant Dutch off the score-sheet, most notably denying a vicious close range strike from Pruijser. Enersen’s superb blocks were enough to earn New Zealand a point from the contest as regular time finished score-less, before a shoot-out decided which team would take home the bonus point. Netherlands goalkeeper Pirmin Blaak was the hero of the one-on-ones, making saves from Stephen Jenness, Jacob Smith and Marcus Child to give his team a 3-2 win in the shoot-out and earn the Player of the Match trophy in the process.
“I thought we should have decided the game earlier, the goalkeeper of New Zealand made a lot of good saves in the last quarter”, said Blaak after the match. “It’s always nice to play the shoot-outs, and I’m glad we took the extra point today. The Kiwis played a really good game. We had the best chances, but we have to be really careful with giving a lot of space away. They did well, we conceded no goals, so I guess today defence wins!”