‘Our biggest challenge at the European Championship will be that the ball has to go in every time. Most people think we score a lot. I think that we score too little’, concludes national coach Paul van Ass, just under three weeks before the start of the European Championship in Mönchengladbach (August 18-27).
Just like the Dutch men, the Oranje Dames received an invitation from the Spanish Association for the four-country tournament last week in Terrassa. Van Ass declined the invitation. He thought that the Netherlands already had enough games in its legs after the Pro League campaign in June. Van Ass thinks it’s time to take steps on the training field. ‘If you participate in such a tournament, you naturally want to win it. Then all focus goes back to that. While I want to use the time to train.’
Van Ass points to the most important lessons of the last edition of the Pro League. Among other things, the two games won against Germany provided him with an important insight. The first confrontation put Germany under pressure. The Netherlands waltzed over Die Danas and won 5-0. In the second game, the Germans showed less naivety and retreated en masse. The Dutch played hockey against a wall and had more trouble making a difference. The win was also a lot smaller: 2-1.
I don’t really have to do all the exercises until the 23rd. We are now mainly imitating the wall that we will run into at the European Championships Paul van Ass
“No team will play against us at full pressure at the European Championship. They will actually keep the spaces small. Even smaller than they always did. In the past, our opponents sometimes played half court against us. Now there are eleven of them behind the 23 meters’, concludes Van Ass. ‘I don’t actually have to do all the exercises up to the 23 anymore. We are now mainly imitating the wall that we will run into at the European Championships. Our positioning must be good. We need to make maximum depth and maximum width. We need to be able to attack the circle in multiple ways. Both over the side and through the middle. We will use the coming weeks to train for that.’
If we don’t get through the defense and our corner doesn’t go, there is always the risk that we will run into a goal against. Or lose Paul van Ass with shoot-outs
Germany and Belgium are the Netherlands’ two biggest competitors at the European Championship. But Van Ass has also seen in the Pro League that they cannot match the Orange in terms of hockey. However, that does not mean that the Netherlands will win the European title on its slippers. What he inculcates to himself and his players is the scenario that the Orange fails to break through the wall and score.
Van Ass: ‘If hockey were a jury sport, we would always win at the moment. I dare to say that. But if our opponent manages to survive for a long time by massively defending the circle, crazy things can happen. Then it becomes a fight against time and crazy emotions can arise. If we don’t get through the defense and our corner doesn’t go, there is always the risk that we will run into a goal against. Or lose with shoot-outs.’
Partly for the same reason, Van Ass is also working on a higher exercise rhythm. What he wants to achieve is that his players can act and move even faster. He wants to use that weapon, for example, to put pressure on. ‘Our press is a means by which we can create space. However much our opponents rely on the defense, when defending, they still put their strikers a little further forward. If we then press with a high rhythm of movement and conquer the ball, there is more room to score through a turnover. Moreover: these are also actions that the public would like to see.’
European Championship selection
It is still unknown when Van Ass will announce the European Championship selection. ‘Preferably as late as possible. I want everyone to continue training with a perspective on the European Championship. Otherwise you will be on the field with a different attitude. Moreover, I don’t know if I will have to deal with injuries. That’s why I’m waiting a while before announcing the selection.’