On August 18, the European Championships for women and men will start in Mönchengladbach, Germany. Not only can a title prize be won there, there is also an Olympic ticket for the winners. What do well-known hockey faces expect from this tournament? Today it is the turn of former international and Oranje-Rood player Jelle Galema.
Just say it: who will take the titles?
‘With the men I put my money on the Netherlands. And that’s not because I played in Orange myself. Under Jeroen Delmée and Eric Verboom, they have been building a team for two years that has mastered the new hockey . International hockey is increasingly becoming a power game . It is lightning fast, physical and revolves around sixty minutes of full throttle. You don’t have to be the most technical hockey player to compete, as long as you’re insanely fit.’
‘Oranje now has a nice mix of players who master this new kind of hockey. They did well at the World Cup and they won the Pro League. Now it’s time to reward yourself with gold in a title tournament. It won’t be easy: all countries want to win that Olympic ticket. Not only Belgium and Germany, but also Spain and England are serious opponents that you should certainly not erase. Everything mainly depends on the shape of the day. That makes the difference between gold or fourth place.’
And with the women?
‘That will be the Netherlands with 100 percent certainty. The only question is with how much dominance. In Paul van Ass they have a fantastic national coach, I know from experience. It’s a pleasure to see how he experiences hockey. If it’s up to him, a maximum of one pass goes wide. Other than that, it’s mostly attacking. I can see that the team is now also enjoying themselves on the field. That has been different before .’
Which team can make it the hardest for the Dutch women?
‘I see Belgium as the biggest challenger. They are taking steps, but the European Championship is still too early to put the fire to the Orange. Even with a bad day, the Netherlands is still better than any other team.’
How do you look at the preparation of the Orange men?
‘The Pro League is of course a separate tournament, because it is so fragmented and the teams always play in different compositions. The fact that the Netherlands came first is therefore not all-encompassing. This also applies to the fourth place in the four country tournament in Spain . Such a selection phase, in which the team was, is always difficult. Seven of the 25 players would drop out. That makes for weird matches. As a team you want to take steps, but at the same time each player has his own place. That puts fourth place in perspective.’
Which Dutch player will steal the show in Mönchengladbach?
“I bet on a group of five players. Tijmen Reyenga, Floris Wortelboer and Thijs van Dam represent the new hockey. They have enormous power, are fast, strong and athletic. Previously you had a type of Marcel Balkestein in the back. A defender pur sang, who did nothing but defend hard and who was almost impossible to pass. The left and right backs of today are not only at the back, but fully participate in the attack and are at home in all markets with their power.
‘Jonas de Geus and Thierry Brinkman are more classic players and both of absolute world class. Thierry is the undisputed leader when it comes to his mentality. He has a good basic technique, is a killer as a striker. He may not be as tall and wide as some others, but he more than makes up for it with his incredibly smart choices in the field. Jonas is the brain of the team. He plays hockey so strong, takes every ball and is tactically so important for the team. If these five are on, the Netherlands cannot be beaten.’
Were there any surprises for you in the European Championship selection?
“I was surprised that Delmée chose so many attackers. In my opinion, it is a missed opportunity that he has not selected Floris Middendorp (a midfielder, ed.). Floris played a good Pro League and, as far as I’m concerned, was ready for a title tournament with the Orange. That was immediately a nice platform to see if he can play a significant role towards Paris.’
‘Furthermore, Seve van Ass is of great value in doing well. In his game he is a cross between a classic ball virtuoso and someone who plays with a lot of speed, which is what the new hockey demands. For today’s hockey you have to be 110 percent fit. His struggle with injuries in recent years has cost him his life, I think.’
Who will excel with the Orange women?
‘A few players from the team are head and shoulders above the rest. Xan de Waard is in my opinion the best player in the world. She has everything: speed, technique, overview and scoring ability. She’s been there for so long and still has the drive to keep going. I have a lot of respect for that.’
‘Sanne Koolen is undervalued in my opinion. In Van Ass’s offensive system, she forms the necessary lock on the door as a defender. In addition, she is strong in her passing. In addition, Frédérique Matla is a phenomenon. She has so much finesse and qualities. It may look casual at times, but the ease and the way she scores is really great.’
Which foreign player do you turn on the TV for?
‘The men of Belgium have worked with the same successful group of players for about ten years. During the World Cup, the game became a bit more difficult. The fact that other countries are playing more and more power hockey has, I think, opened the eyes of Michel van den Heuvel (the national coach of Belgium, ed.) to also rejuvenate. In the Pro League, a number of those younger guests already had a chance. Nelson Onana, for example, a fast right winger who fits in perfectly with the new hockey.’
‘The established order in Belgium includes Arthur De Sloover and Arthur Van Doren: the strongest defensive duo in the world. Germany has a player from the top five best players in the world with Niklas Wellen. In addition, Timm Herzbruch is back. He is known as one of the most talented hockey players worldwide, but has had a lot of bad luck with injuries. He was not yet there at the World Cup in India last winter. I wonder what he’s going to put on the mat now.’
Until recently you played in Orange yourself. What’s it like not being there right now?
‘I watched a few Pro League matches live in Eindhoven last June. Maybe I shouldn’t have. It did hurt a bit, especially because I stopped mainly because my body didn’t want to anymore. But I’m too much of a fan of the game not to see it. In the meantime I have resigned myself to the fact that it is physically better now not to also play in the Dutch national team. It’s good and I look forward to following all the matches closely.’