After winning the European Championship again, the Orange yearns for ‘a little competition’

For a moment it seemed to be a match, the final for the European hockey championship, when the Belgian Abigail Raye passed keeper Josine Koning in the 23rd minute. The Netherlands had not been in trouble until then. In fact, after just over a minute of play, the Orange was 1-0 through a goal from Marijn Veen and not much later it was already 2-0 through a nice goal from Freeke Moes. Then Frédérique Matla hit the post and Yibbi Jansen pushed just wide from a penalty corner.

And yet, the Orange was briefly upset by Belgium’s goal, which soon afterwards had another chance at the equalizer via a penalty corner. But in the 26th minute, the Dutch attacker Joosje Burg ran with the ball on her stick to the Belgian back line and then saw her cross being worked into the goal by an opponent: 3-1. Gone tension. After a third and fourth quarter in which virtually nothing happened, the twelfth European title, and the fourth in a row, was won for the Orange.


It is not the first time that Dutch hockey players have won a series of four consecutive European titles, which also happened in the period 1995-2005. The difference is that at the time, the Netherlands had Australia and Argentina ahead of it on a global level, while the team is now virtually untouchable. Since the lost Olympic final in Rio in 2016, twelve of the thirteen international tournaments have been won. Only in 2022 did the Orange have to leave the final victory to Argentina in the Pro League, a result of the turbulent months surrounding the dismissal of national coach Alyson Annan, who, according to the internationals, had created a culture of fear.

The successes do not seem to come to an end for the time being either, because there is plenty of talent in the Netherlands, with about 250,000 hockey players. Moreover, youth internationals in the Dutch premier league – the strongest competition in the world – can get used to top hockey among the seniors, so that the step to the international podium on their debut in the Orange squad is less than for players from other countries. It is not without reason that several big names have been replaced by new faces almost silently in recent years.

Eight of the eighteen players who became European champions in Amstelveen in 2017 participated in this European Championship: keepers Josine Koning and Anne Veenendaal, defender Margot van Geffen, midfielders Laura Nunnink, Xan de Waard, Pien Sanders and Maria Verschoor and attacker Frédérique Matla. The veterans Eva de Goede (258 international matches, passed) and Lidewij Welten (247, injured), world champion last year, were not missed in Mönchengladbach, while young players such as penalty corner specialist and playmaker Yibbi Jansen (23 years old) and attacker Pien Dicke (23 ) played an important role in Germany last week. Jansen became top scorer of the European Championship with seven goals, Dicke scored four.

The Dutch hockey players on the podium in Mönchengladbach, after their victory over Belgium (3-1) in the European Championship final. Third from the right national coach Paul van Ass.
Photo Olaf Kraak / ANP

Laconic game

The Netherlands is tactically, technically and physically – especially in Europe, as witnessed by the 7-0 victory over England in the semi-final – so far above the rest that national coach Paul van Ass indicated during this European Championship that he longed for “a little competition”. Towards the Olympic Games in Paris next year, for which the Netherlands has qualified directly as European champion, he has to improve his players without a team actually breathing down their neck. A difficult job? “Of course we have our internal objectives,” explains Van Ass on the edge of the field in the emptied stadium in Mönchengladbach. “For example, we are still quite laconic with our opportunities. Those girls know that there will still be a chance. I was really surprised about that, and I think we need to grow in that. Because soon that chance won’t come again. And then?”

Frédérique Matla can only endorse Van Ass’s words. The phlegmatic attacker, good for 88 goals in 119 international matches, aimed the ball at the post at 2-0, free for the keeper. “I do say to myself: if I don’t make it now, there will still be a chance. But I’ll take care of that myself, won’t I? I am a player who can create something.” Nevertheless, Matla takes Van Ass’s criticism seriously. “We want to get ahead of the rest of the world. This means that we become less laconic at times. I never thought we were going to lose today, but Belgium comes into the circle a few times and that’s just not good enough for us. We expect more from each other, that’s what makes us so good.”

Matla, who scored five times this European Championship, has set himself the goal of becoming even more lethal. Last season, partly due to a shoulder injury, she was not always there when she had to. “I told Paul just afterwards that I still haven’t played my best and best tournament with the Orange. While I have won everything there is to win. In that respect, there is still room for improvement. I hope to be able to show it in Paris next year.”