Belfius EuroHockey Championships
Men’s semi-final: Netherlands 3 (J Janssen 2, B Bakker) Spain 4 (P Quemada 2, J Romeu, R Sanchez)
Spain reached the final of the men’s EuroHockey Championships for the first time since 2007 as they produced a remarkable display to beat the reigning champions, ending their hopes of three in-a-row.
Three penalty corner goals – two from Pau Quemada, one from Josep Romeu – along with a Ricardo Sanchez strike had them soaring to victory and three late Dutch goals could not ruin the party.
Spain got off to the dream start in the second minute when Joan Tarres danced his way into the circle and drew a foul. Pau Quemada did the rest with his power proving too much for Sam van der Ven who got a healthy amount of stick to his dive but the ball still pinged back over the line.
Van der Ven did well to avoid a disastrous second goal a minute later when he saved a one-on-one chance but Spain were not to be denied in the second quarter from their next penalty corner. This time, there was even less doubt as Quemada’s flick was still on the rise when it whizzed into the net for 2-0.
While Spain were perfectly executing their set pieces, the Netherlands were unable to find their mark by the closest of margins. Mink van der Weerden’s low slingshot came back off the front of the post early in the second half.
The red sticks were further in dreamland when Josep Romeu made it three successful corner goals out of three in the 34th minute, wrapping his flick around the back of the number one runner to leave the goalkeeper unsighted.
The Netherlands kept winning corners themselves but found Quico Cortes in rude form, punching away flicks with disdain while his runners put their bodies on the line.
And they went four to the good with 10 minutes to go when Xavi Lleonart produced one of the moments of the tournament, bounding clear of a series of chasers. In the corner, he picked out Marc Bolto in perfect position. His cross was blocked but Ricardo Sanchez arrived just in time to flick in the loose ball for 4-0.
The Oranje did not back down and after a series of corners were repelled, Billy Bakker got one back with seven minutes left. But Cortes kept saving the corners until Jip Janssen whipped one into the top corner with 70 seconds to go and the Kampong man added another on the final hooter but, in truth, the result was not in doubt after the fourth Spanish goal.
Lleonart described the win as “really special”.
“It has been 10 years since our last semi-final so we gave this 100% to reach the final. We know Holland are an unbelievable team and sometimes can compete with them but in a one-off game, we can do it. We believed in ourselves and now we focus on the final!”
As for his own fitness, he missed a couple of games earlier in the campaign due to a hamstring strain but he said this was too big an event to miss.
“Not 100% fresh but 100% motivated. It was a really hard year for me, a lot of injuries – the international calendar is so busy. I felt not 100% so Fred [Soyez] gave me some rest. Today, we had to give everything so we decided I could play at full pace and now I feel great! Motivation flows in this kind of game so we will see how I feel tomorrow when I wake up.”
He was part of the 2009 Spanish team to reach the semi-finals and he admits it has been a long road since then to get back to this level.
“It’s why we train. We train really hard but haven’t got the result for 10 years. It’s a long time. Hockey in Spain is not as big as Germany, Holland and Belgium but we go all-out to try and be at the same level as them and we finally deserve some results and some happiness.”
For Quico Cortes, he had been playing in the European Cup since 2003, winning two silvers and one gold and he is delighted to be back in that frame.
“Today, we won a medal and have the chance to fight for gold and straight for the Olympics. I really think we deserved it. Maybe today was our best match of the year while the Dutch weren’t at their best. We took our chance and we will try and do it all again in the final.
“That’s something you haven’t seen from Spain in the last few years. Sometimes, we played good matches but don’t score our corners. This is changing and hopefully, it won’t be the last time.”
Umpires: B Bale (ENG), B Goentgen (GER)
Netherlands – Spain
2’ Pau Quemada (PC) 0-1
19’ Pau Quemada (PC) 0-2
34’ Josep Romeu (PC) 0-3
50’ Ricardo Sanchez (FG) 0-4
53’ Billy Bakker (FG) 1-4
58’ Jip Janssen (PC) 2-4