If the first two quarter-finals of the Sentinel Homes Hockey World League Semi-Finals were all about drama, upset and excitement, the second two matches
were signified by professional and workmanlike displays from the two top ranked teams at the tournament.
There were no upsets to the rankings on the second day of quarter-finals as very composed performances saw the Netherlands beat China 4-0, while England,
who are ranked at number two, overcame a USA side who were not firing on their usual all-cylinders. England got off to a smart start against USA
as they took a lead in the seventh minute after dominating play for the majority of the first quarter. It was Sophie Bray who put England ahead
as she turned a cross from Alex Danson past Jackie Briggs in the USA goal.This was very much with the run of play as England had five attempts
on goal prior to that.
As with their previous game against China, much of England's energy emanated from Lily Owlsey as she drove the ball from midfield into the circle but
her work was made possible by the solid base created by a very composed England defence. The possession enjoyed by England continued in the second
quarter but with no further reward. Two penalty corners offered opportunities but the first was an attempt at a variation that didn't quite work
and the second shot flew just wide of the post. USA fired a warning when Michelle Vitesse smashed a shot at Maddie Hinch towards the end of the
half but the players and coach Janneke Schopman trudged off at half-time knowing they needed to change their mindset if they were to come back
into this match.
It was USA who won a penalty corner in the opening minute of the second half. Kat Sharkey made a great run into the circle to win the corner but it
was deflected away from goal by an English defender's stick. The second penalty corner was won for USA by the captain, Melissa Gonzalez. Her determined
run into the circle drew the foul and the shot went tantalisingly wide of Hinch's goal.
While USA were struggling to find their usual high tempo game, England continued to play their game, working hard to create links between the defence,
midfield and forwards. Key to the patterns were the quietly effective duo of Shona McAllin and Laura Unsworth – the pair held the middle and fed
the forwards with some beautifully timed passes. Sophie Bray scored her second goal just four minutes from the end of the third quarter. Olivia
Paige made an incisive run down the right side of the pitch and Bray was on hand to stroke the subsequent crossed ball home. USA were further hampered
when Michelle Vitesse was sent from the field for five minutes. The loss of such an influential figure dampened the USA even more. England however,
were unable to make the one player advantage count and when Vitesse returned with seven minutes remaining you sensed that the game might change.
Sure enough, a run by Jill Witmer won the USA a penalty corner and a neat switch from Vitesse at the top of the circle saw Gonzalez shoot home with
deadly accuracy into the corner of Hinch's goal. Game on! The volume of USA voices' on the pitch raised, the tempo of the game increased and England
knew they had to re-gain control of this match if they were to defend their lead. The composure of the England defence was the important factor
of the final three minutes as USA pushed everyone forwards. Giselle Ansley threw big aerials out of defence and the combined defensive effort of
the team in red took the fire out of USA's attack and made sure they were the team heading to the semi-finals.
Captain Alex Danson said: "We are delighted with our performance today, it was a good professional performance. We used defence as our springboard
for attack and that worked well today. We are really looking forward to playing the home team in front of the home crowd. "New Zealand are quick
and very structured in defence. We are very similar to them in many ways so it will be a good match-up." Melissa Gonzalez said: "England are a
great side and we showed up for only half the game. We must maintain our energy and work rate for every game. We need to put that match in the
back drawer and move forward."
On the day that Xan de Waard celebrated her 100th cap, the Netherlands made easy work of China to book their place in the semi-finals. They will face
the challenge of another Asia side – Korea. In a pre-match interview, China's head coach Jamilon Muelders said that the quarter-final format was
one he did not agree with, but he conceded that it was exactly this type of format that China may benefit from as they went into the cauldron of
a match against the Netherlands. "Is it fair? I do not think so, but then if we have a horrible 15 minutes against the Netherlands as we have in
a couple of the earlier matches, then it is all over anyway."
The words proved prescient. Lidewij Welten ran through the China defence and slotted the ball past Li Dong Xaio to give the Netherlands the lead in
the fourth minute of the game. This was after a sustained period of pressure by the Dutch from the first whistle. China set up their defence again
and for the remainder of the quarter the Dutch were left probing around the edge of the China defensive quarter seeking a way into the circle.
To China's credit, after the goal was conceded, they set up a very strong and structured defence. But patience is a quality this Netherlands side
has by the bucketful and here was a great example. Time and again the Dutch changed direction, swung the ball around and waited for the gaps to
It wasn't all one-way traffic however. From the base of a structured defence China began to spring their own attacks. Lui Meng initiated an attack
down the right but the threat was dealt with by Carlien Dirkse van den Heuval, the Netherland's experienced midfielder. Then China created a real
scare in the Dutch circle as a shot from Gu Bingfeng flew just millimetres wide of the Dutch goal. Storm weathered, it was the Netherlands who
extended their lead in the 23rd minute when captain Marloes Keetels started and finished an attacking move to give her team a two goal cushion
going into half-time.
As the teams emerged from the half-time break, the Dutch team looked composed and controlled. With the prospect of a tough semi-final ahead of them,
the team in orange looked as if they were preparing to play efficiently without expending unnecessary energy. The China team's aim for the next
30 minutes would be to break that composure and seize the initiative. Li was called on to make a number of saves in the third quarter as de Waard,
Keetels and Welten all had chances. She also stood tall against the penalty corner strikes of Van den Assem and palmed the high drag flick away.
A goalless third quarter is testament to the work rate of the China athletes as they stood firm against the Dutch attack. The Netherlands secured
the win mid-way through the fourth quarter as Caia van Maasakker put away a penalty corner to make it 3-0. Her shot went low into the China goal,
leaving Li with no chance of saving it.
There was yet more attacking play from the Netherlands before the final whistle. The Dutch were camped around the China circle and the next break came
as Malou Pheninckx ran the ball along the baseline before slipping it to Frederique Matla. The midfielder made no mistake as she sent the ball
home for their fourth goal. Speaking after the game, Marloes Keetels said: "We are happy with the defence, we kept it to nil. Our efficiency was
better today in front of goal as well. The team feels very confident going into the semi-finals." Keetels touched on one area that coach Alyson
Annan will want to see improve: her team's goal scoring efficiency through both open play and penalty corner conversions. The Dutch had more than
50 circle entries but were unable to convert this pressure into a significant amount of goals. While their journey through the pool had been serene,
this will be a worry for the coach.
Disappointed China captain Xia Ou said: "We tried to do all our coach asked of us and we are learning all the time. But we will try to give a good
performance in our next game. Our new coach has some definite ideas and we will try to deliver in the next game." Xan de Waard highlighted the
fact that the Netherlands could have won by a bigger score. "We won by four but it could have been eight. We must be more efficient. We tell each
other that one goal in each quarter is a good return but we should have scored more today. We also saw Argentina come out against the team that
finished fourth in the pool with a little bit of arrogance, and we didn't want to do that."
For coach Jamilon Muelders the result was far from a disaster: "It gives a lot of opportunity to learn," he said. "We haven't been together before
this tournament so we have had 10 days to learn. We are getting something out of every experience. We have to bridge language and culture and all
those things." And the coach was full of praise for the opposition: "The win was deserved, the Dutch are the best team in the world."
With the quarter-finals completed, here is the line-up for the semi-finals:
New Zealand v England (Friday)
Netherlands v Korea (Saturday)
In the play-off matches Germany will face Argentina (Friday) while USA play China (Saturday).