Pirmin Blaak, the Netherlands' shootout hero in Saturday's semi-final, was just 10 when his country last won the World Cup. He has hazy memories of the day. Perhaps he and his teammates can take a tip or two from Rogier van't Hek, the right-back who was part of the Netherlands team that won the title on home soil in Utrecht in 1998, and covering the World Cup in Bhubaneswar as a reporter.
The 1998 Dutch team was going through a transition, recalls van' Hek, as celebrated players like penalty-corner specialist Floris jan Bovelander, Marc Delissen and Taco van den Honert (the current Dutch team manager) all retired soon after they picked up the gold at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. "[Coach] Roelant Oltmans managed to have a squad that was still contending for the title. It was a great squad with 'keeper [Ronald] Jansen, [Jacques] Brinkman, [Stephan] Veen, who was a tremendous player," he says. "Of course, the new kid on the block then was Teun de Nooijer. He was the most popular player of all -- he had curly hair, and was a real star. And we had Bram Lomans, who was the successor of Bovelander. For the first time we had only one corner-flicker and that was Bram."
Van't Hek was one of the two reserves in the 16-man squad, meant to fill in for midfield or defence. "The team had already said their goodbyes to me, and 'thanks for all your hard work, and we hope you enjoy the World Cup from the stands,' and that I could pack my bags they had said.
"Then on the last Sunday before the World Cup, a midfielder was injured in a practice game against Australia and Roelant said to me, 'I'm going to pick you.'"
Just like this World Cup, Netherlands faced Australia in the semis. "We had a very fast team at the time, so it was a lot of turnovers. Australia were pressing, and we were defending very well, and with Teun de Nooijer in midfield, and Jaap-Derk Buma and Remco van Wijk up front, we crushed them with turnovers," he says, mentioning how Lomans was only used to take penalty corners, and the return to the bench. "And Bram was taking corners, and I think he made three."
In the final, Netherlands faced Spain, who led 2-0, and the silence of the 15,000-strong crowd that day reminds van't Hek of how the Kalinga crowd was stunned when Netherlands took a 2-1 lead in the quarterfinal against the hosts. "Then Veen scored, it was 2-1, and then the stadium was pumped up. Bram made it 2-2, and then there was extra time with Golden Goal," he says. "Bram flicked and Teun de Noojier [came up] with one of the most famous goals in Dutch hockey history."
Though he on the bench, van't Hek didn't play a single minute of the final. "We didn't use substitutions very much -- only in the attacking line. The defenders and midfielders played the entire 70 minutes," he says. "Bram was sitting over the whole match, the second goalie and I was sitting left to the window, and [on] the best seat in the house, I always say."
The Netherlands women's team had won silver the previous day, and understandably, the party was a long one. "On Sunday there was a huge party. Everybody was drunk and dancing.
"[It was] my first and only World Cup. In those years, I was a good club player, and then went to the Dutch team for two years, but was left out of the team before Sydney 2000. After the Olympics, you want to play the World Cup in your own country, so it was enormous."