Auckland, New Zealand:
The 2013 Hockey World League champions, the Netherlands, will face host nation New Zealand in the final of the Sentinel Homes Hockey World League Final 2017 after defeating Korea 2-0 at the Harbour Hockey Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand today.
In the second semi-final of the event, the world's number one team, the Netherlands took on the lowest ranked team at the tournament Korea [FIH Hero World Ranking: 9]. Where the Netherlands had cruised serenely into the semi-finals without conceding a goal, Korea had encountered some tough matches in the pool stages, including a 3-0 loss to the Netherlands. However, they had showed tremendous character to beat Germany in the quarter-finals and would certainly be intent on pushing the Dutch team hard.
One statistic the Korea side would have loved to have changed was their goal-scoring record against the Netherlands – it has been 717 days since Korea last scored against the Netherlands. How dearly head coach Huh Sang Young and his team would have loved to end that run. Unfortunately for Korea, this was not to be that day.
Early in the first quarter Korea's 'keeper Jang Soo Ji had to make a good save from a Caia van Maasakker penalty corner, the shot was high and Jang padded it away to safely. The Netherlands kept the pressure up on the Korea circle and were rewarded in the sixth minute when the tournament's current equal top scorer Maartje Krekelaar smashed the ball into the goal as it was rising on the bounce: this followed a lovely series of short, sharp passes between her teammates.
Korea struggled to contain the Dutch midfield as they pushed forward and the lead was doubled when Carlien van den Heuvel drove the ball towards the circle and then released Malou Pheninckx who took the ball to the baseline. Her cross found Laurien Leurink who had the simple task of slipping the ball home.
Goal-scoring chances for Korea were few and far between so head coach Huh will not have been pleased to see their first penalty corner scuffed at the top of the circle. The attack did signal Korea's intent to put pressure on their opponents.
Shortly before half-time Maasakker again stepped up for a penalty corner only to see her rasping shot hit the post and ping to safety.
Korea's energetic forward Park Mi Hyun was constantly searching for a gap in the Dutch defence but the Netherlands have developed a wonderfully controlled passing game that is really effective at taking the sting out of the opposition's attack.
At the start of the third quarter, Korea's Jang Heesun was given a yellow card for a tough tackle on Xan de Waard but again the Netherlands were unable to score from the resultant penalty corner. The poor conversion rate is probably the one thing that will be concerning head coach Alyson Annan as she assesses her team's perfromance at this tournament. Van Maasakker's drag flick was easily countered by Jang.
At the other end of the pitch, Park nicked possession and forced the Netherlands' goalkeeper into action.
"New Zealand will be very tough to play. They have grown into the tournament and have the confidence of two good wins behind them. We will need to make sure our structure is in place"
Marloes Keetels, Netherlands captain.
This spurred the Netherlands into a greater tempo and wave after wave of orange-shirted players started to pile on the pressure. Maria Verschoor shot high over the bar and Kelly Jonkers and Lidewij Welten were tenacious as they chased every loose ball in the Korea circle. Somehow Korea didn't concede any further goals in the third quarter but equally, their forays into the Netherlands' circle were limited to single figures.
The final quarter saw the Netherlands maintain a steady pressure without any real fireworks. In the final 15 there was a definite feel that the women in orange were using all their experience to conserve energy for tomorrow's final. Van den Heuvel and Margot van Geffen were the calming influences in the middle of the pitch and Korea really struggled to find a tactic to counter the Dutch control.
There was a breakthrough as Korea won a penalty corner and the resulting shot went tantalisingly close to the Netherlands' goal but there was no return for the effort.
The clock counted down and the Netherlands left the pitch knowing that they had booked their spot without doing more than was needed to progress to the final.
Marloes Keetels: "I think in the first quarter we started well but we didn't play so well later in the game. I think the whole team has done well to keep clean sheets throughout the tournament and that is down to a good attack which helps us defend well."
Talking about their opponent's in the final, she added: "New Zealand will be very tough to play. They have grown into the tournament and have the confidence of two good wins behind them. We will need to make sure our structure is in place."
Youngran Kim said: "That was a tough game. In the first quarter the goal took the wind from our sails but overall I think our team is doing great. There have been some injuries but we are looking forward to playing for the bronze tomorrow night."
It was goals galore in the 7th/8th place play-off match between USA and China. The teams ranked seventh and eighth in the world really let their defensive guards down and went all-out attack in this 10-goal thriller.
China took the lead in the match through the simplest of goals. A free hit outside the USA circle saw Guo Qiu play the ball to Bingfeng Gu, who just turned and slammed the ball at speed towards goal, the speed and simplicity of the manoeuvre caught Jackie Briggs in the USA goal completely off guard.
In the last three minutes of the first quarter, USA piled on the pressure but found the entire China team defending the goal. The only way through was to work for a penalty corner and that is exactly what the smart USA forward Kat Sharkey did as she jinked her way through the defence, eventually drawing the foul. Her subsequent first-time strike edged its way underneath Li Dongxaio's arm as the tall 'keeper dived to stop the shot.
The USA got their second through Loren Shealy - the forward deflected a loose shot into the China goal to give her team a 2-1 lead.
Although China had the lion's share of possession in the second quarter, it was USA who scored their third just before half-time. Erin Matson drove into the circle to win a penalty corner and Jill Witmer was on hand to strike the ball home after it struck a China defender on the hand.
Song Xiaoming then showed her ability as she picked up the ball on the edge of the USA circle and shot past Briggs with a superb reverse stick shot to bring the score to 3-2.
Almost immediately USA sped down the pitch and a fierce shot by Michelle Vitesse was saved but Shealy was on hand to put the rebound home to make it 4-2 going into the break.
Vitesse spoke about the need to keep the defence tight in a half-time interview but it seemed neither side listened to that advice. A further four goals were scored in the next 30 minutes.
China came out with all guns blazing and in the third quarter they brought the score back to 4-4, firstly through Song Xiao Ming who was given the space to run at the goal and shoot into Briggs' right-hand corner. This was followed by a goal for Wang Shumin who was lurking behind the defence to pounce on a loose ball.
On another day, the USA player's heads might have dropped at conceding the lead but this was a team that has great resilience. Goals from Erin McCrudden – an overhead shot that was cleverly controlled – and a final penalty corner from Kat Sharkey were enough to give the USA the win.
Both coaches showed frustration at the defensive performances but USA's Janneke Schopman will be pleased with a 100 per cent penalty corner conversion rate in this game and Jamilon Muelders would have enjoyed seeing the goal scoring and attacking capabilities of his players.
USA's double goal scorer Kat Sharkey said: "I think we are happy we have finished on a high note, this tournament had a lot of ups and downs for us and overall we learned a lot. We are pretty happy with our attacks."
China's goalkeeper and captain Li Dongxaio said: "The whole tournament saw us get better and better. Today we really improved our attacking game, which was good to see."
Her team mate Zhang Lijia added: "We have gathered for a short time in preparation so we are happy that we have made progress with each game."
Sunday's matches see Korea take on England in the bronze medal match at 18:00 while Netherlands take on New Zealand at 20:15 in the final.