Netherlands escapes embarrassment against world number 14

The Orange squad escaped a disgrace on Sunday against South Africa, the number fourteen in the world ranking and last placed team at these Games in Tokyo. After a 0-3 deficit, the team of national coach Max Caldas struggled to a 5-3 victory in the final phase.

The Orange squad made it through the second day of play without damage, but mentally Caldas will have to put in some effort to make this team believe in medals at these Olympic Games again. The 3-1 defeat against Belgium in the opening game was already a blow, but the way the Orange acted on Sunday should hit even harder. The European champion dropped far through the lower limit.

In the first two quarters in particular, the Orange had a complete off-day on the South Pitch of the Oi Hockey Stadium. Within ten minutes of play, the team of national coach Max Caldas trailed 2-0 after childish mistakes in the Dutch defence. After two minutes, Joep de Mol tried to get in front of his man but failed completely. Goalkeeper Pirmin Blaak tried to make a save, but Mustapha Cassiem had no trouble lifting the ball into the empty goal: 1-0.


Such a goal should not fall at this Olympic level, but the second goal was if possible even more incomprehensible. A seemingly harmless high ball was completely misjudged by veteran Mink van der Weerden. Nqobile Ntuli, the frivolous attacker, got a free passage towards Blaak. Instead of shooting himself, he put the ball wide on Abdud Dayaan Cassiem, Mustaphaa’s brother, who pushed the ball into the empty goal: 2-0.

The players of the Netherlands huddle together after the 3-0 deficit. Photo: Koen Suyko
The players of Orange huddle together after the 3-0 deficit. Photo: Koen Suyko

With three quarters to go against a mediocre team like South Africa, nothing seemed to be wrong. But Caldas’ words after the first quarter had barely stopped when it was already 0-3. Once again Van der Weerden worked the ball away dramatically. Nicholas Spooner was therefore allowed to strike freely. Blaak made the first save, but Tevin Kok rammed the rebound high above the goalkeeper into the ropes. The Netherlands, the number three in the world, trailed 3-0 after eighteen minutes against the worst team of these Games on paper. The Dutch players stared in disbelief at each other and at the scoreboard.

It would have been close if it had even been 0-4 a few minutes later. This time, Ntuli only wanted to do it a little too well for Blaak, so his effort ended in beauty instead of in goal.


That miss offered the Orange some guidance for the remainder of the game, especially when Mirco Pruyser scored the 1-3 after 24 minutes with a nice backhand. The Orange squad came into the game a bit better, although that had more to do with a large number of mistakes South Africa made than with a good game by the Netherlands. Many times also balls flew off the stick or soullessly over the sideline on the Dutch side. Orange could not be burned forward in this phase. From the side, the Dutch staff yelled at the defenders as they shuffled back toward the centerline.

There was no sign of real recovery, but the South Africans were kind enough to lend the Netherlands a helping hand. Matthew Guise-Brown rudely knocked Billy Bakker over in the circle, which resulted in a yellow card. That was already the fourth in two games for the South Africans. And just like Great Britain in the first game, the Netherlands also took maximum advantage of the man-more situation. After an old-fashioned scrimmage, Thijs van Dam worked the 3-2 halftime score on the board.


Van Dam’s goal ensured that the Netherlands went to the dressing room with a different feeling and came out a lot fresher. The game was still not great, but it was clear from that moment on that the escape route was open to embarrassment.

After five minutes in the third quarter, many will have already written down the equalizer, when Jeroen Hertzberger was allowed to lay down for a penalty shot. But even the cool top-scorer shared in the malaise and pushed the ball over the goal.

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Jeroen Hertzberger misses a penalty shot. Photo: Koen Suyko

The miss turned out to be only a stay of execution for South Africa because less than a minute later it was 3-3. A good action by Robbert Kemperman was promoted to a goal by Thierry Brinkman. Brinkman immediately went to the side after his goal, where he received a red vest from a substitute. With this measure, Caldas wants to prevent a new blunder as against Belgium, when Glenn Schuurman entered the field too early, leaving the Orange squad with twelve players on the field and captain Bakker yellow.

Ready for demolition

South Africa seemed ripe for demolition, but for incomprehensible reasons, the Netherlands switched back a notch and let the opponent attack after their heart’s content. That should have led to a new African lead a minute before the end of the third quarter, but Abdud Dayaan Cassiem missed completely free for Blaak.

The South Africans got tired in the fourth quarter. They were going to make even more mistakes, which the Netherlands took advantage of. A penalty corner by Janssen again resulted in the penalty shot. Hertzberger thanked for the honor and Van der Weerden used this opportunity to polish his damaged blazon: 4-3.

With that, the game was over and the Orange could even run to 5-3 via a goal from Pruyser. With that, the Orange suffered no damage in points, but to make matters worse, Sander de Wijn was forced to drop out. 

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