Picture by 2019 Getty Images

Why the Netherlands are the team to beat in Tokyo

After a heartbreaking shoot-out defeat to Great Britain denied them a hat-trick of golds in Rio, the Dutch women are as strong as ever as they bid to regain their crown.
By David Childs

They may have missed out on a third consecutive women's hockey gold medal at Rio 2016 but, five years on, the Netherlands are going about their business in the right way to regain their gold medal in Tokyo.

Ahead of the resumption of the FIH Women’s Pro Hockey League, we take a look at why the Dutch women are one of the teams to watch at Tokyo 2020.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

The Netherlands lost the gold medal match against Great Britain in Rio in dramatic fashion.

With the match finishing 3-3 in regular time, the Oranje went down on penalties to miss out on a gold that had been theirs so emphatically at Beijing 2008 and London 2012.

A dip in form could have been understandable, and possibly even expected, following the nature of that defeat. The Dutch failed to convert all four of their penalty attempts, which could have had an adverse psychological impact on the squad.

Instead, the complete opposite has happened.

Since that night in Rio, success has been synonymous with the Oranje. They claimed back-to-back EuroHockey Nations Championships in 2017 and 2019, the 2017 World League, 2018 Champions Trophy and the 2019 ProLeague.

Most significantly of all they won the World Cup in 2018, defeating Ireland 6-0 in the final in London. Their form, for a nation that has been a powerhouse of the sport for nearly five decades, has staggeringly got better in the last five years.

The incredible consistency of the team can be attributed to many factors, but perhaps most interestingly the composure shown to not make drastic changes to the coaching team.

Alyson Annan may not have delivered gold in Rio after being appointed head coach in October 2015, but the trust shown in her has been rewarded by results in recent years. Nothing highlights this more than the decision to extend her contract to 2022, which takes in the next FIH World Cup to be hosted in Netherlands and Spain.

Speaking to hockey.nl, Annan explained: “I'm not done with the ladies yet. I still enjoy what I do and I would like to continue with this team."

The Australian, who won gold as a player at Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000, has unfinished business in Tokyo.

Netherlands head coach Alyson Annan gives a team talk during the FIH Pro League final against Australia in Amstelveen in June 2019
Picture by 2019 Getty Images

The team to beat in the Pro League

The latest edition of the FIH Women’s Pro League may have been disrupted by the outbreak of COVID-19, but that has not altered Netherlands’ position at the top of the tree.

After eight matches in 2020 the Oranje are sitting pretty at the top of the table, winning six of their eight fixtures and only a solitary defeat to their name – a 2-0 loss to Argentina in Buenos Aires last February.

Four of the league’s top eight goalscorers this season so far are Dutch, and the team is currently conceding less than a goal per game.

The titles to their name over the past five years are extraordinary, and their recent form going into 2021 highlights the monumental task facing any other nation to replicate Great Britain’s achievement from Rio 2016.

A squad with sights set on Tokyo

The squad that are being primed for this summer’s Olympics, known as the "Tokyo Group" by the Dutch camp, are already training together an additional two days a week at their home base in Ede ahead of the Games on top of their club commitments.

The decision to do this in part reflects the nature of the current situation with COVID-19, since the alternatives of warm-weather training and international fixtures further afield are presently unavailable.

The group of players include multiple Olympic gold medallists like Lidewij Welten and Eva de Goede (who also share and remember the agony of Rio) along with the next generation of talent who are already making their mark.

One new player to watch is Frederique Matla.

The Den Bosch forward was still playing youth hockey when the previous Games took place, but she is now the Oranje’s joint-top scorer in the FIH Women’s Pro League this season with five goals.

Although the Dutch may be missing legendary player Margot van Geffen, who broke her elbow in a skating accident, the Netherlands have assembled a squad that enter such an important year as the strongest in the world.