Hockey World Cup 2018: Netherlands stun defending champions Australia in thrilling semi-final

Netherlands goalkeeper Pirmin Blaak made the save that won his team the penalty shootout. (AP Photo)

Two days ago, the 15,000 strong crowds at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, Odisha went into stunned silence every time the Netherlands scored. But on Saturday, the villains turned heroes. As the Dutch defeated defending champions and tournament favourites Australia in a thrilling semifinal clash 2-2 (4-3) in the first penalty shootout of the tournament, “Holland, Holland!” chants rang around the jam-packed stadium.

Going by the bare facts, it is hard to imagine the predominantly Indian crowd cheering for a team that sealed the home side’s exit in the tournament. But sport rarely goes by bare facts and in this case, the Dutch set up the mood.

From the first whistle, the Netherlands pressed forward to trouble the Kookaburras. In the 4th minute, Dutch skipper Billy Bakker cut through Australia’s midfield to enter the circle. A few seconds later, a shot from Mink van der Weerden prompted a save from Andrew Charter. It took less than 10 first-quarter minutes for it to become clear that Australia are not going to enjoy the kind of walkover that Belgium did earlier in the evening against England.

Five minutes later, Jonas de Geus dribbled past Aussie defenders from the corner to set up Glenn Schurmann for the first goal. Five minutes into the second quarter, Seve van Ass doubled the lead. The Dutch got a two-goal cushion and then, they made the mistake of resting on it. The Kookaburras pressed forward.

It was at that point that the real hero of the game turned up. By half-time, Netherlands goalkeeper Pirmin Blaak had to make six saves to ensure his sides’ lead remained intact, almost giving a reminder of what David de Gea did for Manchester United during a clash against arch-rivals Liverpool in 2017.

But Australia kept the pressure up and reaped the reward late into the third quarter. Trent Mitton provoked a penalty corner, which was duly converted by Tim Brand.

With the score still in favour of the Dutch with just one minute left on the clock, the fans started leaving, little knowing more drama was in store. 27 seconds were remaining when Eddie Ockenden’s shot got deflected off the leg of a Dutch defender into the back of the net and the match went into penalties. In the shootout, ‘Blaak magic’ continued as he saved the sudden death stroke from Daniel Beale to capture a stunning victory.

“We just said to each other that we won. But we know we gave the game away with 30 seconds to go. We realised we need to stay down to Earth. We need to be even better tomorrow if we want to win the trophy,” Jeroen Hertzberger said after the match.

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