Quiet on the field and quiet in the locker room. “It will also be quiet on the bus to the hotel, and at dinner.” Lars Balk took a while before he got the mixed zone in May Friday, for his comment on the lost semi-final against Belgium. “Feeling the disappointment” is the only remedy the defender can name to perform during the consolation final at the World Cup hockey on Sunday. “Tomorrow the button has to be turned, I want to go home with a medal.”
Belgium proved too strong for the hockey players of national coach Jeroen Delmee on Friday evening. Although the Netherlands took the lead twice, the game ended 2-2, and the Belgians were better at the shoot-outs. After a good first half and a lesser second half, “you end up with that”, according to keeper Pirmin Blaak, who stopped a penalty ball in the final phase.
The match finally eluded the Netherlands in the fourth quarter, when the experienced Belgian team managed to steadily increase the pressure. Blaak: „They know how to manipulate the feeling about the match. It became increasingly difficult for us.”
Belgium is the reigning world and Olympic champion. Prior to the semi-final, the Orange had put pressure on the opponent. They had to live up to their status, players and coaches kept repeating.
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This tournament in India is a test for the Dutch hockey team, a new crop of which nine players are playing their first World Cup. In preparation for the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024, first in Rourkela and then in Bhubaneswar, they had to experience how they are doing individually and how the team has developed since the first international match under Delmee in November 2021. The national coach speaks in his analyzes during this World Cup, of a ‘successful campaign’.
In the first half of the semi-final, the Netherlands even dominated the Belgians. “If you can play in such a free way against the reigning champion, then that – regardless of the result – is something to gain confidence,” says Delmee.
In this way, defender Balk cannot see the match just after the elimination. He is, at 26 years old, a regular in this new Orange. Balk was already there at the 2018 World Cup, when the Netherlands lost to Belgium after shoot-outs in the final. At the Tokyo Olympics, they lost in the group stage. “As a player I never wanted this feeling again, but now it’s back,” says Balk. “Disappointment simply dominates now, especially because we have not been played off the mat here.”
If you can play in such a free way, then that’s something to get confidence from
Jeroen Delmee national coach of the Netherlands
The fact that the shoot-outs again turned out wrong thanks to misses by Thijs van Dam, Terrance Pieters and Seve van Ass made the defeat even more difficult. The Dutch team had prepared well for those one-on-one duels of up to eight seconds between goalkeeper and player, thought Balk, who was not one of the designated players. Goalkeeper Blaak also had every confidence in a good outcome. “I was really looking forward to it. It’s my moment to really help the team. But it was a messy run, both from the takers side and from me – that’s a trade off.”
According to Delmee, the negative conclusion of the shoot-outs is not due to the inexperience of his team. “It’s about the overall picture. Shootouts fall or they don’t.
Earlier, in the match itself, all the details just turned out not to be correct,” said Delmee, who became world champion in 1998 as a player. “An international top team knows how to fully utilize its free game. All the opportunities that you miss mean that the difference is ultimately big enough not to be in the final.”
A version of this article also appeared in the January 28, 2023 newspaper