‘I am satisfied, but not happy,’ said Delmee. “The greatest danger now is to think that we are already there. There is still a lot of work to be done. What is good now will not be good enough at the World Cup in more than a year. The level must be raised.’
In the run-up to the diptych with Belgium, Delmee stated last week that he had no idea where his team stood. Friday’s draw (in which the Netherlands won in part thanks to strong goalkeeper Maurits Visser after shoot-outs) and Sunday’s win gave the Dutch hockey men some color on the cheeks. ‘Of course it was exciting for everyone. For the players, but also for me,” said Delmee. “You don’t want to be knocked off 5-0 by Belgium. These two games give us confidence, we can build on this.”
Delmee, who has succeeded Max Caldas as national coach since September 1, wants to use the coming months to inventory the state of Dutch men’s hockey. A training internship in Spain and a series of Pro League matches are scheduled in January and February. From June, the national coach wants to build a team with a view to the World Cup hockey at the beginning of 2023 in India. A year and a half later, the Paris Olympics are just around the corner.
With a largely renewed selection and staff, Delmee started preparing for the Pro League games against Belgium two months ago. The 23-man selection of the Dutch team has no fewer than fourteen new names compared to the team that already lost in the quarter-finals at the Olympic Games.
Five hockey players decided to stop as internationals after Tokyo: Billy Bakker, Mink van der Weerden, Glenn Schuurman, Roel Bovendeert and Mirco Pruyser. Furthermore, four players are still thinking about their future: Seve van Ass, Robbert Kemperman, Jeroen Hertzberger and Sander de Wijn.
When composing his selection, Delmee looked beyond technically trained hockey players who can play six men. Speed and character are essential qualities for the 401-times former international. Delmee thinks it is just as important what players do without as with the ball. “In contemporary hockey, as an attacker you also have to conquer, chase and defend balls,” said the Brabant coach on Sunday afternoon after the 2-1 victory over Belgium.
Character attackers such as Jelle Galema, Dennis Warmerdam and Koen Bijen asserted themselves last weekend by making many dirty meters. Illustrative of what Delmee expects from his vanguard players, was an action by Bijen in his own half. After a long sprint back, he successfully dove for the ball on the sidelines and quickly mounted a counterattack that led to a big chance. It did not result in a goal, but a big compliment from his coach.
Bad ball assumptions
Certainly not everything went smoothly in the two games against the Belgians, who are coached by the Dutchman Michel van den Heuvel. Delmee must have struggled every now and then in the empty Wagener Stadium with sloppy passes and bad ball assumptions, his hobbyhorses. It was also evident that with so many newcomers there was a lack of automatisms.
No fewer than nine players made their debut in the Dutch team last weekend. The most special story was without a doubt that of Dennis Warmerdam. This weekend it was exactly four years ago that a rare tumor in his forearm was discovered in the attacker of Pinoké. At first it looked like his arm would have to be amputated. In May 2018, an arm-saving operation was performed, with the possibility that certain functions would be lost. Miraculously, the operation went very well and a year later Warmerdam was back on the hockey field.
Warmerdam, now 27, made his debut on Friday and made his first goal two days later. “Unbelievable, this is indescribable,” said Warmerdam with a big smile. ‘To make your debut first and also score today… a real dream. A few years ago, getting the Dutch national team was so far away for me and now I am here. No one can take this from me anymore.’
In his second international match, Warmerdam, on a pass from debutant Tim Swaen, thoughtfully scored the 2-0 after five minutes of play. The Netherlands had already taken the lead in the third minute with a goal from Thijs van Dam. The Belgian penalty corner specialist Alexander Hendrickx made the 2-1 shortly before half time. In the second half, the combative Netherlands survived without major problems.