The Netherlands simply rolls through the European Championship in Mönchengladbach, without playing enchanting hockey. On Thursday afternoon (5 p.m.), England awaits in the semi-final. National coach Paul van Ass does not expect England to be able to eliminate the Orange. ‘They lack technical skills in several positions.’
In the players’ hotel in Venlo, the relaxed Van Ass is asked whether he actually craves competition. He decides to answer honestly. ‘A little bit, yes. And those girls too. You don’t want to be the best by far . You want to be challenged.’
He wants to remain respectful towards the opponents of the Netherlands at this European Championship. He emphasizes that. We can’t say it’s going to be easy. I keep taking it seriously. I keep doing analysis. Nor is it true that those Englishmen are bakers.’
But he is not impressed by the English, who suffered a heavy 5-0 loss to the Germans. ‘They lack technical skills in various positions. They try to solve that with strong tactical plans. But if you can’t technically do it, that’s it. If it all goes too fast for you, or if you don’t stop the ball, then you have to come up with other solutions. Then the English are not so strong. If it stays 0-0 against England for a long time, then we can sometimes play hockey against ourselves. If we get ahead quickly, then they have to give away spaces and we blow over them. Then it’s done.’
I have yet to see it with Belgium. I think that Belgium is written too much up. Paul van Ass
Belgium also failed to impress him in the mutual confrontation in the group stage (2-0 win). Germany will go to the final. At least that’s what I expect. I have yet to see it with Belgium. I think that Belgium is written too much up. Their game image against us is always the same: hold back for a long time. That’s all they do.’
His opinion of Belgium may change if Raoul Ehren’s team wins against Germany in the semi-finals. ‘But I still have to see how they do it. Whether they really win against Germany, or whether Germany loses against itself. Let them first beat Germany in a way that I take my hat off to. And then they also have to dare to play that type of game against us. Only then can it become an interesting match. But what if they sit back and do what they always do to us? Then it will be 2-0 for us again.’
I would like to play against Germany in the final. To be honest, we are also ready for a game of fighting. Paul van Ass
Van Ass does see a strong opponent in Germany. In the Pro League, the Netherlands won 5-0 against Die Danas , but according to him they are playing better now than then. ‘I think Germany plays good hockey. Germany has the quality to peak at title tournaments. That is in their culture. They have been playing with the same conception of the game for years. They already sharpen it in childhood. They are using that system better and better this European Championship, especially against England (5-0 win), for example, they did very well.
He expects Germany to be the opponent in the final. ‘I hope so too. I expect that game to be a real fight. That we don’t just win. Certainly not in the lion’s den, in front of all that home crowd there. I would like to play against Germany in the final. I think that will be a much nicer match to watch than against Belgium. To be honest, we are also ready for a game of fighting.’
The Orange is not yet playing as liberated as in the Pro League
Meanwhile, the Dutch national team has not yet shown its best game. The team has the ambition to enchant the world with eye-catching hockey. In the opening game against Spain (5-1 win), the Dutch hockey machine was not yet running at full speed. Against Belgium (2-0 win) the game was already a lot better. The match against Italy seemed ideal for the Orange attackers to build up confidence. But it was not a gala performance against the number seventeen in the world ranking. The Netherlands was supreme, but the game was boring.
‘In the Pro League we played every opponent home carefree. The feeling of freedom, happiness, I miss that so far. The handbrake is on. That’s because this European Championship is a title tournament. Now there is more pressure than during a Pro League match. These girls have been playing together for years. As soon as things get exciting, you see them fall back into old patterns. I have to break through that these days.’
Apparently some players are restless about what happens when they lose the ball. I do not know that. They don’t trust enough what happens in their backs. Paul van Ass
Van Ass immediately started that mission after the match against Italy. On the terrace of the players’ hotel, he drank a cup of coffee with captain Xan de Waard for an hour in the evening. ‘She told me that the players like having defensive handles. So that they can always fall back on that during the game. We have those handles. I thought: should we go through that all over again? But she said yes, let’s do that. And let’s do some little things differently too. So we did. Apparently some players are restless about what happens when they lose the ball. I do not know that. They don’t trust enough what happens in their backs. We are now trying to dispel that unrest.’
Will the Orange squad show the liberating game from the Pro League against England on Thursday afternoon? ‘I think so. We don’t just have to win. We also have to win a little bit nicely.’