Sample this: In the last 28 years, the only time Holland’s Men’s Hockey Team hasn’t managed a podium finish is 12 years ago in Monchengladbach,Germany. In other words, they have won a medal at six out of the last seven World Cups. If you want consistency and are looking for World Cup pedigree, look no further.
But as is the case with most things, there’s also another way of looking at Holland’s results – their inability to win the gold. The last time they finished on top of the podium was 20 years ago. It might be slightly harsh to judge their performances based solely on this stat, but they are the victims of the lofty standards they have set for themselves.
Over the next few days, the world number 4 side will be keen to shed the tag of being the perennial bridesmaid by improving on their silver medal finish from four years ago to go on and actually lift the trophy in Bhubaneswar.
The man tasked with that job is Maximiliano Caldas, who led the Dutch women’s team to World Cup glory four years ago at home. Soon after, the former Argentina international was given a gifted bunch of players at his disposal, but he soon realized he had inherited a broken dressing room.
During his first interaction with the players, Caldas told a Dutch website in an interview that he felt like ‘Winston Churchill addressing his troops’. So, he got the players together in a room and insisted they talked things out. “If things need to be said, good or bad, for the right reasons, it needs to be said,” Caldas told the players.
Caldas’s mafia look but a passionate, playful mannerism won the dressing room. The barrier was broken and the players – who according to Caldas ‘laughed at each other than with each other’ – gradually bonded.
That had an immediate impact on the performances. Holland won the last two European Championships, in 2015 and 2017, along with the 2017 Hockey World League semifinals.The Rio Olympics, where they finished fourth, did not go quite exactly as planned – something that continues to bother Caldas.
“We (Holland) have the most of everything – the most pitches, the most clubs and most players in the world in the men’s side anyway. And yet we underperform. Our last World Cup win is 1998, Olympics was in 2000… As a coach you always think, ‘s**t, everything can get better.”
Plugging the Holes
In Bhubaneswar, Caldas leads an immensely talented squad. Mink van der Weerden is capable of turning around the game at any moment with his drag-flicks while the midfield comprises Billy Bakker and Robbert Kemperman, who is set to make his 200th international appearance during the tournament, among others.
Seve van Ass, Mirco Pruijser and Jeroen Hertzberger will lead the forward line, that struggled to get its act together during the Hockey World League Finals last year.
At the World League Finals, held at the same venue last December, Holland’s defensive set-up was extremely effective although they looked frail while defending short corners. However, it was the smart movements off the ball by the forwards that stood out.
It gave them an edge while attacking but the final link-up between the midfielders and forwards was at times missing, which is why they struggled to score goals.
Shrewd coach that Caldas is, it’s safe to assume that he would’ve plugged these holes by now. Holland find themselves in the proverbial group of death. They are placed alongside Germany, Pakistan and Malaysia and know that a tiny slip-up in any game could have a huge bearing in the overall result.
With the quality they possess, Holland will once again enter the World Cup as one of the favourites to finish on the podium. Whether they end break the 20-year wait for gold, though, remains to be seen.
The Netherlands men’s team for the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018:
Seve van Ass, Sander Baart, Billy Bakker, Lars Balk, Pirmin Blaak, Thierry Brinkman, Thijs van Dam, Jonas de Geus, Jeroen Hertzberger, Robbert Kemperman, Mirco Pruyser, Glenn Schuurman, Sam van der Ven, Valentin Verga, Bob de Voogd, Mink van der Weerden, Sander de Wijn and Floris Wortelboer Reserve players: Jorrit Croon, Joep de Mol