(Image: Yan Huckendubler)
Two goals against the run of play were enough for the second ranked Netherlands to get by Canada by a score of 2-0 in a Hockey World League Final quarterfinal match Wednesday in Raipur, India.
Despite the loss, Canada – ranked fourteenth in the world – had its best game of the tournament, led by a strong defence which limited the chances for the Dutch, and an offense that came to life in the fourth quarter and was unfortunate not to have produced a goal.
“That was a good performance from us today,” says veteran midfielder Mark Pearson, who was named Man of the Match. It was the second straight game a Canadian was given the award in a losing effort. “We know that these guys are so skilled, so fast, we’ve got to come out and defend first and then try and take our chances when they come.”
It was defending they had to do first.
After giving up multiple goals in the first quarter in each of their last two games, the Canadians had a positive first quarter on their own side of the pitch.
Led by captain Scott Tupper, who made several strong tackles at the top of the circle, the Canadians did not surrender a significant chance against, and only conceded one shot, which went wide of the goal.
The first quarter was scoreless and as the game went on the Canadian offense began to take stride.
In the twentieth minute, a strong run by Pearson resulted in a Canadian penalty corner – the first in the game for either team. It was Gordon Johnston who took the dragflick. The attempt was stopped by Dutch keeper Pirmin Blaak, as was the initial rebound. A third chance landed on the stick of Tupper, who – with pressure from behind and Blaak out of position – put a backhand just over the crossbar.
Moments later, in the twenty-third minute, Gabriel Ho-Garcia did a good job shaking away a Dutch defender and finding space at the top of the Netherlands circle. He took a hard backhand shot which quickly rose and may have been headed for the top corner, but hit forward Matthew Guest on the way there. The ball went in off Guest’s chin, but did not count. Guest was injured but returned to the game shortly thereafter.
Despite Canada creating chances and building momentum, the Dutch were first to get on the board. A quick counterattack in the twenty-fifth minute resulted in the ball finding Constantijn Jonker open for a split second in front of the Canadian goal. He out-muscled a Canadian defender and put the ball by Antoni Kindler for the 1-0 lead.
The Netherlands were buoyed by the goal and in the second half had a chance to add to their lead on their first penalty corner of the game, but Kindler made two quick saves, and the follow up corner was put wide.
It remained a one-goal game into the fourth quarter, when the Canadian offense pressed harder than it has all tournament.
— FIH (@FIH_Hockey) December 2, 2015
The best chance to tie the game came from Pearson, who once again made an unlikely run, taking on and beating three Dutch defenders before blasting a shot on goal. Blaak made a kick save to preserve his team’s lead in the forty-sixth minute.
Guest had a chance of his own in the fifty-second minute, when he was wide open in the circle but a charging Blaak cut off the angle and made the save on the shot.
The Netherlands were lucky to escape without surrendering during that fourth quarter spell, and made good on that luck by capitalizing in the fifty-sixth minute. After Kindler made the stop on an initial shot, Roel Bovendeert bounced the rebound in for his team’s second goal.
“We’re pleased with our performance, obviously disappointed with the loss,” says Pearson, who has two goals in the tournament.
“A couple chances go our way and maybe we sneak a result so we’re pretty pleased.”
Canada has one game remaining at the Hockey World League Final. It will World No.3, Germany, in a classification match for 7th place Saturday at 6:45am PT/9:45am ET.
More on Canada at the Hockey World League Final:
Post-match interview with Mark Pearson:
Post-match interview with Gordon Johnston: