It was the match-up everyone wanted to see. Number one in the FIH World Rankings versus number two. The undefeated FIH Hockey Pro League champions versus the reigning World Cup champions. The cool, calm, composed Dutch versus the fire and feistiness of Las Leonas.
Before the match, Netherlands Head Coach Jamilon Mülders spoke of the need to nullify the threat of Agustina Albertarrio and Maria Granatto, which his team proceeded to do, while simultaneously unleashing their own devastating pace, speed and vision onto the Argentina defence. The Dutch hockey was powerful, compelling and utterly unstoppable. It gave the Oranje their ninth title, with Eva de Goede, Xan de Waard, Marloes Keetels, Margot van Geffen and Lidewij Welten all receiving their third World Cup gold medal.
In the earlier bronze medal match, Australia broke German hearts when they turned the match around in the final quarter. Germany had looked impressive in the first three quarters and seemed to have the bronze medal in the bag but Australia had other ideas and scored twice in the last 15 minutes. The Hockeyroos had been kept in the match by the excellent goalkeeping of Jocelyn Bartram, who denied Die Danas time and again.
Australia vs Germany (3rd place/bronze medal match)
After their breakneck start against Argentina the previous day, Germany started at a slightly less frenetic pace in the bronze medal match. This translated into a more structured performance from the European team but with few opportunities to put the Australian defence under attack.
That all changed in the 14th minute when Hanna Granitski found Lena Micheel with a beautiful pass that dissected the midfield. Micheel ghosted through the defence and her running shot flew past Jocelyn Bartram into the Australia goal.
The second quarter saw Australia finding their feet in the game to a greater degree. Stephanie Kershaw, who has had an excellent World Cup, was instrumental in driving the team forwards. Her through balls to the forwards were asking questions of the German defence.
The first penalty corner of the match went Germany’s way after some good work by Micheel and Nike Lorenz. Goalkeeper Bartram and her defence dealt with the penalty corner attempt well. That was the only real scoring chance in the second quarter as both sides struggled to find a way past two well-coached defensive units.
Australia’s first real chance came when they broke through the middle of the pitch early in the second quarter. Again it was Kershaw who started the move and her pass found Rosie Malone. The forward had eyes only for the goal as she sprinted forward but she was met by German goalkeeper Nathalie Kubalski who blocked Malone’s run until the defence was able to recover.
German countered quickly as Pia Maertens broke through and only had Bartram to beat. The Australian goalkeeper read the move brilliantly and made a fantastic save to keep her team in the match.
Australia thought they had got back into the game just before the break at the end of the third quarter. A sustained period of play led to a penalty corner but Maertens was fulfilling her defensive roles as much as her attacking ones and she picked the ball from mid-air as it was headed goalwards from a Renee Taylor shot.
Germany started the final quarter at top pace as they sought to build on their narrow 1-0 lead. Two penalty corners gave them opportunities from the top of the D, but Australia’s defence held strong.
That strong defence paid dividends a few minutes later when Stephanie Kershaw bullishly made her way through the German defence and created enough space to shoot past Kubalski and bring the scores level with just over 10 minutes left to play.
In a sub-story to the match, a dual was emerging between Bartram and Maertens as the goalkeeper denied the attacking midfielder on a number of occasions, including two quite amazing saves in the fourth quarter.
Australia took the lead with five minutes left when Kershaw popped up to pounce on a shot from Claire Colwill. The whole move had started with the sterling work of Amy Lawton, who had been driving the team forwards throughout the match.
Germany instantly removed their goalkeeper to get an on-field player advantage but it was to no avail as Australia kept their cool and composure to run the clock down to deny a German revival and seal the bronze medal.
Player of the Match Jocelyn Bartram (AUS) said: ‘I feel just so elated. That was a tough game and Germany was a tough opponent but we stuck to our processes and pulled through. I have been working hard in the past few years to get my chance but my teammates deserve the credit because they always have my back.’
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Argentina vs Netherlands (Final/gold medal match)
There were tears at the national anthems with some athletes knowing this was their final match for their country. Belen Succi and Marloes Keetels have already announced this is their last outing in the national shirt but there were other players fighting back the emotions ahead of this highly anticipated final.
Argentina had very early pressure with two penalty corners in the first minute. Keetels, who was wearing the captain’s armband, stopped the first off the line and the second saw Austina Gorzelany put her shot high over the crossbar.
Netherlands’ first meaningful attack came through the speed and skill of Felice Albers. However, Gorzelany is not just a scoring machine; on this occasion, she showed all her defensive ability to steal the ball from Albers’ stick.
The first quarter ended goalless with both teams having enjoyed a smattering of attempts but neither side having edged ahead in terms of shots on goal or possession.
One minute into the second quarter and Albers strode forward to intercept a high aerial thrown by Valentina Costa. Her movement into the circle forced a foul and subsequent penalty corner. It was the opening the reigning champions were waiting for. Yibbi Jansen shot and Maria Verschoor was on hand to slot the ball past Belen Succi to give the team an invaluable goal lead.
The difference between the two teams at this point was that the Netherlands were playing quickly but Argentina was doing everything in a rush.
Netherlands’ second goal came via the route one approach. Pien Sanders threw a fabulous aerial. Laurien Leurink collected and threaded a pass to Frederique Matla. Matla put the ball high into Succi’s net.
The half-time break could not have come quick enough for Argentina as they held on to see out the threat of two penalty corners on the stroke of half-time, with Belen Succi sustaining an injury in the process.
Argentina came out for the second half determined to cut the Dutch lead but in their search for a goal the team lost their composure. No such problem existed for the Netherlands. The third goal was a supremely confident piece of teamwork topped by some sheer individual brilliance. Eve de Goede and Sanders played the ball out of defence with a series of intricate little ‘give and go’ passes, then released the ball to Albers who carved her way through the Argentina midfield and defence before shooting past Succi.
One minute into the fourth quarter and Albertarrio showed that she wasn’t giving up the fight. The forward won the penalty corner and Gorzelany sent the ball high into Josine Koning’s goal.
This galvanised Las Leonas and there was a lot of forward motion. The problem was that the team wasn’t connecting and too many passes went astray or were sent hopefully towards the Dutch circle.
The Netherlands weathered the Argentina storm and won another penalty corner. Eva de Goede thought she had scored a goal to mark her return to the team but the whistle had gone and the midfielder was denied.
Player of the Match Felice Albers (NED) said: ‘It is a great feeling. I am so proud of our team. This was the best version of our team. We were the best team today and that was our best game of the tournament.’