Gold for orange as doughty Dutch douse Argentine fire to waltz off with hockey spoils
Friday, 10 August 2012
August 10 - It did not quite live up to its billing as a thrilling, open encounter between the two best teams in the sport; in fact it was more solid than spectacular.
But that will not bother the Netherlands (pictured top) who became only the second nation in history to retain the Olympic women's hockey title tonight in front of a partisan Orange Army.
Two second half goals, both following penalty corners, gave the Dutch a deserved 2-0 victory over their biggest rivals and denied Argentina a unique treble of World Cup, Champions Trophy and Olympic gold.
Argentine skipper Luciana Aymar, the Diego Maradona of women's hockey and playing in her fourth Games, desperately wanted to crown her 35th birthday with the one accolade missing from her trophy cabinet.
Instead, in her last stab at gold before retirement, it was déjà vu as the seven-times world player of the year came up short and had to be content with a silver medal to go with her other silver and two bronzes.
Argentina coach Carlos Retegui had predicted a classic and possibly the best match in history – but it was far from that.
Snatching gold from the Beijing winners was always going to be a tough ask even though the Netherlands had to rely on a penalty shoot-out to beat New Zealand in the semi-finals.
This was the fourth major final between these countries in the last two years.
Argentina had won two of them but nothing is as big as the Olympics and just as in 2004 and 2008, Argentina's quest for a first gold was ended by their old foes, although the last two times were at the semi-final stage.
Cometh the big occasion, cometh once again Maartje Paumen.
Scorer of a staggering 11 goals in Beijing, the Dutch captain was instrumental in so much of the Netherlands' good work tonight and now waits to see whether the men can make it an orange double in tomorrow's gold medal clash against Germany.
While the Dutch rarely looked in trouble the first half was a scrappy, cagey affair, neither side able to open up the other with chances at a premium.
The most notable moment was when Argentina's Mariela Scarone had to go off for lengthy treatment after being accidentally struck in the eye with a stray stick.
The deadlock was broken 10 minutes into the second half.
Paumen's beautifully worked penalty corner was well saved by Florencia Mutio but Carlien Dirkse van den Heuvel pounced on the loose ball to produce a fantastic finish.
The Argentines clearly felt the penalty corner should not have been awarded and as their heads dropped so the defending champions started to create more openings and doubled their lead.
Once again it was from a penalty corner after Maartje Goderie was upended, but this time Paumen opted to smash the ball straight in from the top of the circle.
By now the Argentines were a beaten team and they will be disappointed, with so much skill in the side, that they failed to seriously trouble Joyce Sombroek in the Dutch net.
"I'm so proud of the girls, we had the brakes on a bit in the first couple of games but we raised the bar and saved the best till last," said Argentine-born Dutch coach Max Caldas.
Paumen, whose 14 Olympic goals is a new record, paid tribute to the crowd: "It was like a home game.
"I can't really compare the two golds but this one is bigger and certainly heavier!"
Van den Heuvel said her goal settled Dutch nerves: "It just had to be scored – we had been better than them for the entire game but if you take too long scoring it only gets more and more difficult."
A crestfallen Aymar tried her best to put on a brave face: "It was a very difficult match for us.
"We were doing fine until they scored their first goal.
"It's a real shame.
"It's still a silver medal and overall we are very happy about how we've played in this tournament.
"The team are a sensational group of players and at least we have a silver medal.
"My objective was to enjoy it all as much as possible, so it went very well for me personally.
"The majority of the girls are very young and have a lot of playing time ahead of them – for that reason they can play in lots more tournaments in the future."
Earlier in the day the bronze medal, amid huge euphoria, went to Britain – their first Olympic medal since 1992 and only their second ever.
There had been concern for British fans about whether the players would recover from the blow of losing their semi-final to Argentina on Wednesday (August 8).
After winning their opening three group games in some style, Team GB had lost their previous three matches and were up against a New Zealand side that had surprised everyone by almost reaching the final.
But second half goals from Alex Danson, Crista Cullen and Sarah Thomas gained a 3-1 win over the Kiwis to prompt scenes of wild celebration.
August 2012: Tears rather than silver or gold for GB's London 2012 women's hockey team