A record-breaking victory over Italy helped the Netherlands to join Ireland, Germany and Australia in the quarter-finals of the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup London 2018, as the pool phase ended at the Lee Valley Hockey & Tennis Centre. The Dutch produced a stunning performance to set a new record in terms of the biggest ever victory at an official FIH Women's World Cup, with the 12-1 triumph over the Italians eclipsing the nine goal winning margins achieved by West Germany(1976: 9-0 vs Nigeria / 1978: 10-1 vs Nigeria) and Korea (1990: 9-0 vs USA).
The first session of competition Day 8 featured the concluding matches of Pool A, with Korea and China first to take to the field in a match that would see at least one of the teams being eliminated from the event.
Whilst the two sides were level on points in the bottom half of the pool, Korea's marginally superior goal difference meant that China needed victory if they were going to keep their title hopes alive and were certainly the better team in the opening stages of the contest. Their chances of securing a place in the play-off places for the quarter-finals greatly improved when Xhang Xiaoxue's back-hand strike in the fourth minute gave China a deserved lead.
However, Korea raised their game and struck a remarkable equaliser in the final second of the quarter, with Kim Ok Ju showing great awareness to get ahead of her marker to slap a first time effort between the legs of China goalkeeper Kim Youngran.
China were arguably the better team for the contest but failed to make the most of some significant scoring opportunities, thwarted regularly by an outstanding performance from Korea central defender Tang Heesun, who was named Vitality Player of the Match.
The final 15 minutes were almost totally dominated by China, but their lack of a killer instinct in front of goal proved costly with five minutes remaining. While China did not concede, a yellow card to Guo Zixia saw China reduced in numbers for the final five minutes of the match, instantly stopping the momentum that the team had been gathering in the latter stages.
Korea held on for the draw that they needed to progress at the expense of Jamilon Mülders' young China team who, despite elimination, will have gained invaluable experience from this competition ahead of their attempt to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the upcoming 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang, Indonesia.
Speaking after the match, China's Ou Zixia said: "We played well but we didn't get the outcomes we had hoped for. We have been doing a lot of preparation around penalty corners but we needed to get more structure to our attack to make that work.
"Our tactic was to do a lot of running to really stretch the pitch. Our coach asks us to work hard to the very last minute of the game. I think we did that today."
The final match of Pool A was the battle for a first place finish and that all-important guaranteed berth in the quarter-finals, with reigning world champions the Netherlands (WR:1) taking on surprise package Italy (WR:17).
With both teams having won their two previous matches, something had to give in the meeting between the highest and lowest ranked teams competing in this year's Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup London 2018.
While the Italians produced two wonderful performances in their wins over China and Korea, they faced an entirely different proposition in a Dutch side that had scored 14 times and conceded just once in their triumphs over the Asian nation in the pool.
While the Italians showed plenty of spirit, the Dutch were sensational in the opening two quarters and powered into 5-1 half time lead. Frederique Matla finished off a slick passing move to put the Netherlands ahead in the 10th minute, with Caia van Maasakker's unstoppable penalty corner drag-flick making it 2-0 just before quarter-time.
Italy captain Chiara Tiddi smashed home a penalty corner early in the second period to give her team hope, but the dazzling Dutch turned on the style with Kelly Jonker, Margot van Geffen and Kitty van Male all making their mark on the score-sheet.
Rather than easing off, the Dutch somehow found a way to improve in the third and fourth quarters, adding another seven goals to their tally to claim a staggering final score of 12-1, setting a new all-time winning margin record at an FIH Hockey Women's World Cup.
Carlien van den Heuvel marked her 200th international with a two goals either side of blistering finishes from Van Male and Matla who pushed the score to 9-1 ahead of the final quarter. Van Male took her match tally to four with two strikes in the final quarter, with Kelly Jonker also adding another goal to a quite remarkable score-line.
"The start was not good enough, which Alyson [Annan] made clear at the break but we gradually got better with our passes and the goals started to go in as a result," said Netherlands ace Kitty van Male, who sits at the top of the scoring charts with seven goals in just three games here in London.
"Korea and China are good teams and we sometimes only win 1-0 against them, for example in Rio, we only won by small margins. But our team spirit here is great and that is key to a good performance."