The Jeroen Delmee coaching era started in positive fashion on Friday evening as his youthful Netherlands team earned a 2-2 draw against reigning Olympic, World and FIH Hockey Pro League champions Belgium, before claiming a wonderful bonus point by comfortably winning the shoot-out on a rainy occasion at the Wagener Stadium in Amstelveen.
Dutch legend Delmee, in charge of his first Netherlands men’s game after representing the team over 400 times as a player, will have been pleased by the performance of his inexperienced but hugely gifted group, with Thierry Brinkman wearing the captain’s armband for the first time and producing a Player of the Match performance for the hosts.
Belgium were the better team in the first quarter and would have been ahead were it not for some good goalkeeping from Netherlands shot-stopper Maurits Visser. However, the Oranje grew in confidence as the game progressed and produced a dominant second quarter display against their illustrious opponents, being unfortunate not to take a lead into half time when they rattled the frame of the Belgian goal.
The deadlock was broken five minutes into the third quarter when Terrance Pieters was on hand to fire home after a huge overhead had unlocked the Belgian defence, although the Red Lions needed just three minutes to pull level when Florent van Aubel pounced on a penalty corner rebound.
A Jip Janssen penalty stroke restored the Dutch lead in the 49th minute only for Alexander Hendrickx to answer back four minutes later, rattling the backboard with a trademark penalty corner drag-flick to send the match into a shoot-out for the bonus point.
The Oranje dominated the one-on-ones, with goalkeeper Visser denying Florent van Aubel, Arthur de Sloover and Felix Denayer, while Thijs van Dam, Thierry Brinkman and Jonas de Geus were all on target as the Netherlands claimed the extra point.
“I think we played pretty good, it was the first official game [since] the Olympics for us”, said Netherlands captain Brinkman. “Against this team [Belgium] as well, it’s not so bad. We trained already for two months now. New guys, a new coach, a new culture – I think it is good.”
Belgium’s Arthur de Sloover said: “I think we could have done better. Holland played a really good game. They tried to put us under pressure, and they did well. I think we didn’t manage to play our own game as we can do, so now it is up to us to come back on Sunday [for the second match] and show another face.”