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September 29, 2000
Fortunes rest on midfielders: Cedric
The men's hockey final between reigning champions The Netherlands and first time finalists Korea promises to be a thriller.
Both teams rode their luck as they squeezed into the last four at the expense of Germany and India respectively. And how they seized the opportunity! Korea tactically beat Pakistan, while The Netherlands overcame home favourites Australia in a thrilling tie-breaker.
They say fortune favours the brave. This is exactly what happened with these two teams. However, it is crunch time now and there is no room for any slip-up by either of them.
For Korea, this is their best chance to seize the opportunity as the Dutch are really not playing upto their mark. For a team that wears the tag of Olympic, World and Champions Trophy champions, the Dutch performance has been quite mediocre thus far. The Koreans are on a roll and can go the whole hog if they go into the final without any inhibitions and play with the belief that they can win.
But all depends on how well each team controls the midfield. Both are known to get goals from clever midfield play which helps to open gaps for the forwards. As such, the team which wins the battle in this department is sure to triumph.
Here are some common strengths of both teams:
In attack, both teams are capable of furious counter attacks (playing on the break) and transference of defence into attack. They can use both flanks well by rotating the ball in the midfield, with minimum carrying. Hard running, closing down and good marking -- be it zonal or man to man - - and accurate cross balls are their forte.
In defence, both teams have players who can double up as defenders as well and fall back when the pressure is on. More than anything, both play a tactical game and look to capitalise on half-chances.
What are the other strengths of The Netherlands?
They know how how to execute the precise pass and when to release the ball without wasting time. They can mobile defensive units and adapt quickly to the changing trend of play. Their deep defence is probably the most experienced with the likes of goalkeeper Ronald Jansen, sweeper Eric Jazet, central defender Jerome Delmee and left defender Vouter van Pelt, with in-form Jazet being outstanding.
Their midfield boasts of the most experienced player in international hockey -- Jaques Brinkmann, who plays in the centre and who has 328 international matches to his credit. On either side he has the likes of captain Stephan Veen and Tuen de Noojier. Their strikers -- Remco Van Wjyk, Jaap Dirk Buma and Peite Hien Gerris -- have not really played to their full potential but can turn around their game any time.
Then they have Bram Lomans, one of the best in the business in penalty-corners. He was the best till Pakistan's Sohail Abbas upstaged him. He hasn't done much at these Games and that could mean trouble for Korea. One cannot forget his heroics at the World Cup in 1998, when for the best part of the tournament he did not score and really came out trumps in the semi-finals and final. If memory serves me right, he pumped in four goals and singlehandedly won the Cup for hosts Holland.
However, Lomas is also the chink in the Dutch defence. He has become a bit slow in recovery and can be easily beaten on a one-on-one. The Koreans will have to move him. They should let him come to meet them and then quickly change direction.
The Koreans' strengths lies in their speed, staying power and never-say-die attitude. Ample proof of these qualifies was there in their league matches, particularly against India and then against Pakistan in the semi-final. In Song Seung-tae, they have an opportunist who can get goals out of nothing. Then there is Keong-wook and Yeo Won-kon on whom much of the play revolves. If these three can get their act together there is no reason why Korea cannot win and claim a place in Olympic history.
The Dutch are favourites to take the gold for the second Games running, but my money is on Korea. They have come a long way and are good enough to wear the Olympics champions' crown. An enthralling final is on the cards. May may the best team win.
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