BHUBANESWAR : There is an innate beauty when two opposing philosophies face each other inside a sporting arena. Real Madrid versus Barcelona. Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal. Floyd Mayweather versus Manny Pacquiao. Golden State Warriors versus Cleveland Cavaliers. All of them want to be winners but the path they pick to reach the promised land is as different as chalk and cheese.
Two such opposing identities — unstoppable force and immovable object — faced off against each other at the Kalinga Stadium on Wednesday. While The Netherlands are filled with artists eager to use the blue turf as a blank canvas, Germany is a team full of artisans. Honest workers whose first port of call is to defend their territory before venturing behind enemy lines.
Just before the match began, Spain’s principal video analyst, Roberto Gomez, who sat with the media, made an observation about the two sides. “Netherlands,” he said, “have the better players. But Germany have a better side.” The following hour proved why. Max Caldas’ men cut through the German defence like a knife through hot butter. Some of their play in the opening 30 minutes wouldn’t have been out of place in a Cirque du Soleil show. Their passing deep inside Germany’s half had a touch of arrogance to it.
Their carousel style passing also involved the centre-backs on a number of occasions. This was hockey in excelsis. It was also right that they were showcasing their skills in front of a capacity crowd because the Dutch school of thought are great believers in playing to the gallery. Winning one-nil? Pfft. That isn’t how they are wired. Just ask Jeroen Hertzberger, who scored a hat-trick in the opening game against Malaysia. “In Holland, we are always trying to play attractive, offensive hockey and it always needs to be fun to watch.” They were fun on Wednesday evening but they forgot the most basic thing. Goals, the most primal of currencies in the sport.
Not scoring more than once when on top is a cardinal sin in any sport. Failing to put the game to bed when dominating against Germany is a one-way suicide mission. Because they are reliably world class at clawing their way back from lost causes. They had already shown glimpses of this unique art in the first 30 minutes. Possession stats will say Germany had more of the ball in each of the first two quarters but that evidence wouldn’t stand up in a court of law because the Netherlands had made all the running with it.
Caldas’ men had total control for 28 of the first 30 minutes but the Olympic bronze medallists earned three penalty corners in the two minutes (one in the final minute of the first quarter and two in the final minute of the second quarter) their opponents lost control. That’s all it took for Germany to do what they do best. The World No 4, for all their pressing and forward-thinking passing, hadn’t yet earned a short corner. Germany’s third of the night, and the final action before half-time, brought them level.
After half-time, Dutch flair slowly gave way to German efficiency. Those cute Orange triangles which created dizzying patterns were conspicuous by its absence as Stefan Kermas’ men sensed opportunities on the counter. A switch had been flicked and 1-1 after 52 minutes became 4-1 after six short minutes. Christopher Ruhr’s loud roar after converting a penalty stroke two minutes from time served as icing on the cake or a bucket of salt on a deep, nasty gash depending on your worldview.
Listening to both the coaches after the match just confirmed their differing philosophies and how both of it played a small part in engineering the path of the match. “Our fourth quarter wasn’t great,” Caldas opined. “When we were down 1-2, we went too fast to try and solve the problem. When that happened, we let in goals.”
The Argentine couldn’t have been truer in his assessment. Their passing accuracy dipped from 65.3 in the first quarter to 54.6 in the third quarter. It increased a tad in the fourth but Germany were already out of sight. “It would be wonderful if it (play not so great but still win 4-1) happened all the time,” Kermas said. “We knew we had to defend, you need patience in games like this.” So they defended. Even after the Netherlands, who were looking irrepressible at one stage, took the lead, the men in black kept their shape and never panicked. It’s not in their DNA.
Netherlands in line to face India
Netherlands’ loss means they are on course to face India for a place in the semis. If the Dutch beat Pakistan in their last group match, they will meet one of Canada or South Africa next week. If the three-time champs get past that tie, they could face off against India in a last eight clash. The last time these two sides met at an FIH event here, the hosts won in a shootout after a 5-5 draw (World League Finals in 2015).