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September 30, 2000

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Well played Stephan!

Cedric D'Souza

The stage was set for a full house, with the spectators just wanting top class hockey. The teams did not let them down. They played their hearts out for 85 minutes, before the tie-breaker was introduced and The Netherlands squeaked home 8-7, when Seong Song Tae's flick went wide. What a fabulous final, especially Stephan Veen's heroics!

If there was a prize for a captain's innings, then it would go to Dutch captain Stephan Veen. He was the pick of the parade. His performance in the final against Korea on Saturday will go down as the best in the annals of contemporary hockey. That's because he single-handedly pulled the rug from under the Koreans' feet by scoring four goals. His allround tenacity motivated his team to give that little extra. This game was probably the best I have seen in recent times.

Both teams should be complimented for the manner in which they exhibited how modern hockey should be played. Not an inch was given in midfield, with players of both sides quick to fall back, tackle hard and close down after losing possession.

In attack, one witnessed the art of playing on the break, speedy counter play and carrying the ball at top speed. Both sides made clever use of width, looked for gaps and exploited them with accurate release. And when they got a half chance they were quick to capitalise on it.

In defence there were several lessons. Like how not to commit; how to channel a player; how to restrict space on top of the circle; how to keep possession; how to stay focussed, soak pressure for extended periods and then quickly transfer defence into attack with a long penetrative balls up front.

The Netherlands had the better of the exchanges for practically the entire match -- I would go on to say that they had control for around 60 minutes whilst Korea had 25 minutes of the 85 minutes. But the manner in which the Koreans seized the opportunities and came back when the chips were down is tribute to their mental strength.

The first goal was scored by Seong Song Tae in the 10th minute. A cross ball from the right was fired into the circle where Bram Lomans, the last defender, was marking captain Kang Keo Wook who was lurking behind. Lomans should have intercepted this pass and made the trap but he did not and Kang received it, brought it to his left and hit towards goal using the Argentinean reverse hit. Jansen, who was on the line, padded, but the rebound came to Seong Song-tae, who pushed goalwards. Jansen saved again but he couldn't stop Song from tapping home finally. Score: Korea 1, Netherlands 0.

The second goal was of a powerful and accurate penalty-stroke, scored by Stephan Veen in the 20th minute. The stroke was awarded when, from the Dutch second penalty-corner, Bram Lomans's goalbound flick was blocked by Jeong Jong's body as the ball flew past goalkeeper Jong Chun Lim's right. Here it should be mentioned that it was Stephan Veen's tenacity and guile that brought about the penalty-corner. Score: 1-1.

Both teams used crowding tactics in the 25 and restrained themselves from firing balls into the circle if they could not find a player well-positioned. Instead, they played the ball back, switched the game and held possession trying to draw the other out.

After the break, The Netherlands started where they left off in the first half as they fought to maintain territorial advantage in midfield. The third goal was scored in the 39th minute, again by Stephan Veen. It was the culmination of fantastic teamwork, especially the give and go. Veen, re-tackling, stole the ball on the 50-yard line and with his customary play sped forward carrying the ball with tremendous speed. It caught the fleet-footed Koreans off guard as he relayed it to Martin Eikelboom just inside the 25. Eikelboom held the ball superbly as he was being closed down by two Korean defenders, waited till he got them parallel and then released it into the circle for Tuen De Noojier, deep on the left. Tuen placed the ball into the gap just outside the reach of the Korean goalkeeper and Veen dived to tap home. The Koreans were guilty of throwing their sticks and ball watching. Score: Netherlands 2, Korea 1.

Then Korea really threw caution to the wind and went for broke as they exerted tremendous pressure for the next 10 minutes. The Dutch composure and experience was really put to the test as they held on in spite of numerous cross balls and long balls being fired into the circle. It was at this time that one saw them pull everybody back into the defence. The Koreans also tried their hand at stage acting as Jeon Kwan threw himself to the ground to try and claim a stroke when being tackled by Bram Lomans. Unfortunately for him German umpire Christian Sebreth was equal to the situation and penalised him with a green card.

The fourth goal came much against the run of play in the 64th minute. Veen helped himself to a third by creating a goal out of really nothing. A counter attack from the Dutch forced a defensive lapse by the Korean defence as Jaap Derk Buma shot from top of the D. The ball deflected off a Korean defender and landed in no-man's land where Veen dived forward and slipped it in before any of the other defenders including the goalkeeper could even react. Score: Netherlands 3 Korea 1.

This was in the 64th. Everyone thought that the gold was Holland's, but the next four minutes produced one of the most fantastic recoveries ever witnessed.

Till then the Dutch had shown how a truly well-oiled defence works by not giving a single penalty-corner. In the 67th minute a cross from the left deflected off Eric Jazet's stick on to Wouter van Pelts foot. The first penalty-corner for the Koreans.

The Koreans slipped the ball (pass to the left of the halter) and Jansen saved, the resultant rebound flew to the top of the circle and captain Kang Keo Wook took a try which was again saved by Jansen. Off the rebound Seong Song, on the line, minus passed the ball for a simple tap home. Score: Netherlands 3, Korea 2.

Korea kept up the pressure and really broke the usually cool and composed Dutch defence.

The sixth goal. The Koreans earned another penalty-corner in the 68th minute and although the ball was not halted properly they had the presence of mind to first halt it dead and then relay a pass to the right for captain Kang Keo Wook to hit towards the goal. The ball was brilliantly deflected in front of Jansen into the net. Score: 3-3.

Extra time did not produce any score and both teams must be complimented on their commitment and attitude in going for victory.

Then came the strokes and everything was equal till Seong Song Tae's flick went wide of the post and the Dutch captain coolly slotted home to give his team a victory and retain the Olympic gold.

This was Stephan Veenís swan song. He certainly saved his best for last, and I guess all of us will remember these games as his Olympics.

What a way to go. A salute to you, Stephan; all the best in your future endeavours.

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