19 Aug 2023 at 05:07
Without the disappointed Eva Drummond-De Goede, the Dutch hockey players are led by Paul van Ass for the first final tournament. The European Championship in Mönchengladbach is the first test for the national coach, who had to provide a breath of fresh air after a hectic period.
Before the first training with the hockey players in October, national coach Van Ass asks himself two things. “Can I even make the jokes here that I always make?” and “Can I be completely myself here?”.
The 63-year-old Van Ass soon comes to the conclusion that he can answer both questions with a ‘clear yes’. The former national coach of the men is the first permanent national coach after intermediary pope Jamilon Mülders since the complaints about a culture of fear under Alyson Annan.
Under her leadership, the Dutch team won everything there is to win, but within the team there was talk of an unhealthy sports climate. That period has now ended, but the aftereffects are still palpable.
“For me it’s like old photos of a boyfriend or girlfriend,” says Van Ass. “You can take them out of the closet, but then it becomes painful again. At a certain point you have to put them in a box and put them in the leave the closet.”
The European Championship program of the Netherlands
August 19, 1:15 PM: Netherlands-Spain August 20, 3:00 PM: Belgium-Netherlands August 22, 2:45 PM: Netherlands-Italy August 24, possible semi-final August 26, possible final
‘Don’t have to ask everything with velvet gloves’
On the last training day before the European Championship, the fun splashes, especially when keeper Anne Veenendaal’s dog enters the field in Amsterdam. The laughter gets even louder when the dog challenges Felice Albers (the best player in the world in 2022) to play with the ball.
Captain Xan de Waard looks with a smile at her teammate, who does not have it so easy to keep the ball with him. “I can see that everyone is really enjoying being on the field again,” says the midfielder a little later in the Wagener Stadium.
Before Remi (as Veenendaal’s dog is called) entered the field, the party game was pretty fierce. It was hard against hard, but according to De Waard and Van Ass that was never the problem. “It is logical that we all do not like to lose,” says De Waard.
Van Ass adds: “In the beginning I had to explore, but soon noticed that the problem was not there. It is really not the case that I have to ask everything to everyone with velvet gloves.”
Margot van Geffen stands for her seventh European Championship with the Orange. Photo: Pro Shots
Van Geffen due to the absence of Drummond-De Goede ‘grandmother’ of the group
About half an hour after the training, Margot van Geffen hears from the press secretary that she has received the most interview requests. The 252-time international is already her seventh European Championship. “The first time we played on normal grass,” she jokes before someone else does.
The 33-year-old Van Geffen is the ‘grandmother’ of the group in the absence of the unfit Lidewij Welten and Drummond-De Goede. The absence of the latter is particularly striking. The two-time world player of the year wanted to return after a rest period, but to her own surprise was passed by Van Ass.
For Van Geffen, the absence of Drummond-De Goede, who married last summer, is a loss. She is missing from a final tournament for the first time in years, and usually the two then shared a room. It says enough about their friendship that Van Geffen introduced the man to De Goede in 2014, whom she later married.
“I really feel for her,” says Van Geffen. “But she also says she still wants to show that she can be of value. She has to do that in the competition and then it’s up to Paul to give her a chance.”
Van Geffen also had doubts about the future
After the complaints about the culture of fear within Orange, Margot van Geffen wondered whether she still wanted to continue. “Of course you look in the mirror. What could I have done differently?”, says the defender.
“We were in such a tunnel for years in which you just keep going and it seems like that’s normal. Together we found out what had to be done differently and what is part of a top sports climate. I thought it was important that I could remain myself.”
Will Drummond-De Goede return?
Why Van Ass passed Drummond-De Goede? He mentions the rejuvenation and the group process that has taken place in recent months. “Don’t forget, we are going to the European Championship with a very young new generation,” he says.
“And Eva is no longer the Eva we know because of her knee,” Van Ass refers to the knee injury that kept her aside for months towards the 2022 World Cup. Thanks to a lightning-fast rehabilitation, the midfielder was fit just in time to win her fourth world title.
Van Ass continues: “Eva didn’t say thank you herself, so I haven’t forgotten her yet. We’ll see how things go after this European Championship. The result and the game at this tournament also play a role, of course.”
“I can imagine that after the European Championships Eva will get another chance to look in the group, which has made a leap. The question for her is whether she wants to join in. Towards the Olympic Games in Paris, the competition in any case cutthroat.”
Also men in action at European Championships
The European Championship for men will also be played at the same time as the European Championship for women. The team of national coach Jeroen Delmee will play against France, Germany and Wales in the group stage. The men’s final is on August 27, one day after the women’s final.