Eastham has sights on top ranking despite World Cup final loss

The Hockeyroos believe the world No 1 ranking is within their reach they have bridged the gap with the Netherlands, despite going down 2-0 in the World Cup final on Saturday.

The Australian women were valiant, but ultimately outclassed by a relentless Dutch outfit spurred on by a 15,000-strong partisan crowd in The Hague.

It followed a defeat by the same margin in the group stages and confirmed the Dutch team’s place as the world’s best - but Australia coach Adam Commens believes the gap is narrowing quickly and he is optimistic his side could be on top by the time the 2016 Olympic Games roll around.

Albion Park junior Casey Eastham dives to prevent her Netherlands rival from taking possession in the World Cup final at The Hague. Picture: REUTERS

Albion Park junior Casey Eastham dives to prevent her Netherlands rival from taking possession in the World Cup final at The Hague. Picture: REUTERS

Commens, who earned 143 caps for the Kookaburras, compared the Hockeyroos current situation to that which Australia’s men faced in the early 2000s.

The Kookaburras finished second in the 2002 World Cup behind Germany, but bounced back to claim gold in Athens two years later.

‘‘The progression that the Kookaburras made at that time, I think we’re able to emulate that with the Hockeyroos,’’ Commens said.

‘‘I think it will be a tough ask.

‘‘They obviously have a large pool of talent coming through and a good group of coaching staff.

‘‘It will be difficult. But I think it’s not insurmountable.’’

Arriving in Holland ranked fourth in the world, Australia cemented their place among the top teams once again by claiming silver and rising to second in the rankings.

It is their best result in a major tournament since earning silver in the 2009 Champions Trophy.

And Commens says the age of his group, with just a handful of players over 25, and their potential for improvement is what fuels his belief in the two years ahead.

‘‘The gap has been closed,’’ he said.

His thoughts were reflected by midfield star Casey Eastham, who said the past 18 months had been spent closing in on the Dutch.

‘‘We knew the Dutch were going to be the ones to beat come World Cup, so that was our goal, to do everything we could to close the gap on that,’’ she said.

‘‘We’ve done that quite well. We know the Rio Olympics is the long-term goal for us.

‘‘We’ve got another couple of years to go with that and we’ll keep working with the squad we’ve got.’’

For the moment, however, the Dutch are still a class above every other opponent on the planet and they showed that on Saturday.

Australia did well to restrict the winning margin to just two goals - an achievement for which goalkeeper Rachael Lynch deserves enormous credit.

The 27-year-old, who was named goalie of the tournament, made eight saves in the final and was a colossus before the net.

She stood little chance with the opening goal of the match, a penalty stroke taken by Dutch captain Maartje Paumen, and could scarcely have done more to prevent their second either after spectacularly deflecting one attempt by Kim Lammers, only to have the ball rebound back into the path of the Dutch forward for a second attempt.

Those first half goals were enough to secure a seventh World Cup for the Dutch.

Australia will now begin preparations for next month’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, where they are the two-time defending gold medal winners.Australia’s men play for World Cup gold, also against the Dutch, on Sunday. AAP

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