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Sunday 29 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
Morgan Treacy/INPHO
# orange crush
Ireland start European championship campaign with 4-0 loss to Dutch
World champions Holland defeated Ireland 4-0 in the tournament opener this afternoon.

The Netherlands 4

Ireland 0

ANY TEAM WHO will meet the Dutch in this European championship won’t just need a game-plan but a convent of nuns saying rosaries on their behalf.

Chasing a third successive European title, the world’s No1 ranked team fully deserved their 4-0 win here in Ireland’s opening game of the tournament. Dates with Scotland and Spain promise to be considerably easier for an Irish team who has genuine aspirations of reaching the semi-finals.

Having any sort of ambition against the Dutch, however, has to be tempered with realism. The world champions are a fascinating team to watch, not just because of their technical excellence and individual quality but mainly due to the way they dictate the terms and conditions of their games.

Tactically flexible, their focus here was to stretch Ireland by varying the angles of their passes and runs. In contrast, Ireland retained a disciplined, narrow shape, defending – by and large – with a degree of confidence. They’ll reflect bitterly on the sloppiness which led to the fourth Dutch goal; will be just as annoyed by their difficulties in finding an attacking outlet whenever they recovered possession but won’t be completely despondent by what happened here.

Yes, they’re in the same competition but the Dutch are in a different league. It showed here as early as the first quarter, Caia van Maasakker with their opening goal from a penalty stroke, Leurien Leurink with their second, a fine move involving Marloes Keetels down the Dutch right, which ended with Leurink applying a first-touch finish.

By now, the end result wasn’t in doubt. Had Anna O’Flanagan’s third-minute effort found its way past the Dutch goalkeeper, Josine Koning, when the game was still scoreless, then there’s no doubt the injection of confidence would have helped Ireland’s cause.

But enough to suggest an improbable victory against the eight-times world champions? Not likely.

As the second quarter evolved and Ireland gradually retreated deeper into their own half, a sense of inevitability unfolded. Frédérique Matla – a technically gifted player – got their third from a penalty corner just a minute after her cross-cum-shot went right across the corridor of uncertainty that divided Ayeesha McFerran from her defence.

Onto the third quarter, and another Dutch goal, the weakest of the four Ireland conceded as Leurink ran along the endline before pouncing on Irish hesitancy to poke the ball past McFerran.

The final quarter was better from an Irish perspective, in the sense that they refused to feel sorry for themselves and allow a heavy defeat to become a hammering. The leadership of O’Flanagan, Katie Mullan, Nicci Daly and Hannah Mathews was evident. So was the awareness of their roles. They met Dutch width with their own compact shape. This defeat will hurt but the wounds can quickly heal if a win over Scotland arrives on Monday (11.30am).

Afterwards Mullan said: “There’s a few little things defensively where we get caught as a full team; those are the moments where they dominate and score and that’s where the Dutch are so clinical. 

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“But there were times we really did have control, held the ball well and were able to accumulate passes. We’re in a good place going into the Scottish game.”   

Netherlands: J Koning, M Pheninckx, L Leurink, M Keetels, C van Maasakker, F Matla, P Sanders, L Stam, M van Geffen, E de Goede, F Albers 

Subs: S Koolen, M Verschoor, L Nunnink, S van Gils, I Kappelle, P Dicke, A Veenendaal 

Ireland: A McFerran, R Upton, N Evans, K Mullan, S McCay, L Tice, N Carroll, H McLoughlin, L Holden, S Hawkshaw, A O’Flanagan 

Subs: M Carey, M Frazer, C Watkins, N Daly, H Matthews, D Duke, L Murphy 

Umpires: L Delforge (BEL), S Bockelmann (GER) 

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