AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Netherlands regained their European field hockey crown on Saturday after a six-year hiatus by easily overcoming first-time finalists from neighbouring Belgium in a 3-0 victory in front of a 10,000-strong home crowd.
Team veterans Carlien Dirkse van den Heuvel and Kelly Jonker both hit the backboard during free play, before defender Ireen van den Assem dispatched a penalty flick with less than a minute left on the clock.
Outstanding offensive play from defender Margot van Geffen and attacker Lideweij Welten, world hockey player of the year 2015, also helped the home team create countless chances to the delight of the sell-out Dutch stadium.
Despite not scoring and finding themselves on the back foot for most of the match, Belgium wrote field hockey history by achieving their best-ever European finish after beating Germany 1-0 in Thursday’s semi-final.
The Dutch team, ranked number one in the world, breezed through the week-long tournament without dropping a single point to claim their ninth European gold medal.
The result puts the Dutch team firmly back into the driving seat a year after it lost out on a third consecutive Olympic gold medal when it came up short against Great Britain in a dramatic penalty shoot-out.
Belgium, with an average age of less than 23 years, entered the final as the clear underdogs but some of its young talent, including striker Joanne Peeters and midfielder Sophie Limauge, have refreshed a team that was disappointed by missing out on Olympic qualification.
For the young team, a European silver medal is the best-ever finish since gaining fourth place at the 2013 European championship on home soil.
Reporting by Karolin Schaps