Bhubaneswar: The Netherlands won a nerve-wracking shootout in the semi-finals to knock the defending champions, Australia, out of the World Cup at the Kalinga hockey stadium here on Saturday.
Eddie Ockenden had equalised (2-2) with less than half a minute left on the clock to keep alive Australia’s hope of entering their fifth consecutive World Cup final. The goal took the match into a shootout.
Australia and the Netherlands scored three times each out of five attempts in the shootout to enforce a sudden death. Jeroen Hertzberger then foxed the Aussie goalie with a superb dribble before slotting the ball into the net. Australia’s Daniel Beale’s shot was then parried away by Dutch keeper Pirmin Blaak, as the Netherlands entered their seventh World Cup final.
In the title clash on Sunday, the Dutch will meet Belgium, who earlier blanked England 6-0. Australia and England will face off before that for the bronze medal.
The Netherlands, as expected, attacked from the start, as the might of the Australian defence was tested early. In the fifth minute, the Netherlands earned their first penalty corner but Mink van der Weerden, who scored the winner against India, couldn’t beat the Australian keeper.
Four minutes later, however, Glenn Schuurman put the Netherlands ahead. The goal had a touch of the proverbial Dutch flair. Jonas de Geus hoodwinked Jake Harvie and Corey Weyer with two sublime taps of the ball to breach Australia’s penalty circle from the right. He passed the ball on the dive to Schuurman, who, from near the right post, scooped the ball to the side netting.
Twice more, the Netherlands shot at goal in the first quarter, but the Australians prevented them from taking a 2-0 lead.
The Australians, two minutes into the second quarter, had a chance to equalise. But Blake Govers’s drag-flick was blocked by the Dutch rusher. He tried to score off a rebound but Pirmin Blaak, the Dutch keeper, gloved the ball away from danger. Blaak saved another Govers drag-flick two minutes later to deny the Aussies.
The Netherlands, too, missed scoring off a penalty corner in this quarter but they didn’t need one to double their lead. Seve van Ass, after receiving an aerial pass at the top of the D, waited a second for two Australian defenders to lunge towards him, then deftly sidestepped to go around them, and drove the ball from the right. The ball was deflected off Tim Howard’s stick into the Australian net.
The Dutch attack was at its best but the defence impressed, too. In the first quarter, the defenders denied the Aussies a shot on goal. In the second quarter, keeper Blaak made six saves. Despite being reduced to 10 men for a five-minute phase in the penultimate quarter after Valentin Verga’s yellow card in the 34th minute, they maintained a two-goal lead.
The Australians, however, reduced the margin a minute shy of the third quarter’s end after pulling off a slick penalty-corner routine. Govers, instead of going for a drag-flick, passed the ball to Jeremy Hayward, who, then, set it up for Tim Howard to hit from the left. Blaak, this time, couldn’t get to the ball.
The Australians brought in a kicking back, six minutes before the finish, in a desperate pursuit of an equaliser. And, the move paid off with 26 seconds left on the clock. Eddie Ockenden, in a goalmouth scramble, snuck in a goal, to take the game to a shootout.