Hockey: Dutch women fighting to maintain their edge

World and Olympic champions the Netherlands (in blue) playing Australia last week in a friendly ahead of this week's TPG International Tri-Series hockey tournament at Sengkang Stadium. It will also feature Germany.
World and Olympic champions the Netherlands (in blue) playing Australia last week in a friendly ahead of this week's TPG International Tri-Series hockey tournament at Sengkang Stadium. It will also feature Germany. PHOTO: TPG ACADEMY

They have swept the gold medals at the 2012 London Olympics, the 2014 Hockey World Cup and even the 2010 Youth Olympics (YOG).

Yet the Oranje juggernaut shows no intention of slowing down, as the Dutch women's team stepped up their preparations for the Rio Games with a 3-0 victory over South Korea in a friendly at the Sengkang Stadium on Saturday.

The Koreans, ranked ninth in the world, were simply unable to match the physical superiority of their opponents.

The Netherlands, ranked top in the world, are in town for this week's The Project Group (TPG) International Tri-Series, which kicks off today. World No. 3 Australia and No. 8 Germany complete the line-up for the triangular.

  • TPL Int'l Tri-Series

  • The TPG International Tri-Series is held from today to Saturday at the Sengkang Stadium. Each team will play the other twice in a round- robin format. All matches start at 7pm. Entry is free.

    Today: Australia v Germany

    Tomorrow: Germany v Netherlands

    Wednesday: Netherlands vAustralia

    Thursday: Australia v Germany

    Friday: Germany v Netherlands

    Saturday: Netherlands v Australia

The most successful team in hockey World Cup history with seven wins, the Dutch are eager to capture their third successive, and fourth overall, title at the Olympics.

Team captain Maartje Paumen, 30, top scorer at the 2008 Olympics with 11 goals, attributed their success over the years to the country's deep love of the sport.

An estimated 240,000 people play hockey, with many getting their first taste of the sport at the age of six. There are over 300 clubs in the country.

"There are a lot of hockey players in Holland, and a lot of people up for selection," said Paumen, named the world's best player in 2011 and 2012.

"We train very hard... it's like work, we take it very seriously."

This was echoed by head coach Alyson Annan, 42, who said: "Hockey is the No. 2 sport in the Netherlands, only behind football.

"There is a lot of pressure from the media, other teams and even ourselves."

Despite the team's impressive record at major events, Annan insisted that her charges - who train between 18 and 20 hours a week and whose regimen includes strength training and pilates - have plenty to work on if they want to remain Olympic champions.

The former Australian international, whose team have Test matches against England and practice games against New Zealand and Spain ahead of the Olympics, said: "The team haven't won anything major since the World Cup (in 2014). We managed to maintain our ranking only because we finished high in tournaments... we may have lost our edge over other teams."

With nine of the players who played in London in the current squad, Annan is looking to forge a good combination of experience and youth in the team.

She added: "We have at least eight new players contending (for a place in the final squad). Youth brings surprise, a new dimension to our game."

Of the 26-strong squad in Singapore, only 16 and two reserves will be selected for Rio.

Competition for a place in the team is so fierce that defender Frederique Derkx, who was part of the victorious YOG team in 2010, was not selected for the 2012 Olympics in London.

The 21-year-old has since stepped up to the senior team and hopes to earn a spot in the final squad for Rio.

She said: "It's difficult, it's a big group and all the girls are good. I'll have to train hard, then we'll see."

With healthy competition and an appetite for success across the team, expect the Dutch to be favourites for this week's tournament.

After all, as captain Paumen simply puts: "We are never satisfied."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2016, with the headline 'Dutch women fighting to maintain their edge'. Print Edition | Subscribe