By Annika Breidthardt
LONDON (Reuters) - Germany's men and the Netherlands' women both defended their Olympic hockey titles but their level of dominance should not be overstated.
Not having dropped a point throughout the pool stage, the Dutch women had to go through the first Olympic penalty shootout against pre-tournament outsiders New Zealand in the semi-final.
Experience prevailed with Kiwi coach Mark Hager admitting his side had not sufficiently practised the new shootout format, in which five players from each team get eight seconds each to enter the D and score.
Germany's men dropped four points in the group stage, looking patchy at times, but rose to the challenge when it mattered thanks to wily coach Markus Weise.
He has now won three successive golds, first with Germany's women, now twice with the men.
The standard of play in some matches in the medal stages was spectacular.
Germany's men beat title favourites Australia 4-2 in their semi-final with a late three-goal rally in a fast and largely equal match that could have gone either way.
There was little of the purely defensive hockey that Australia coach Ric Charlesworth laments as the "European style" of playing. In fact, Britain's men, who eventually came fourth, crashed out against the Netherlands mostly because of their attempt to match the quick Dutch breaks.
That made Britain reckless at the back and opened the door for a 9-2 drubbing, the highest defeat in an Olympic semi.
While spectators at the 16,000-strong Riverbank Arena - often packed even for the early morning or late evening sessions - were given plenty of enjoyable hockey to feed on, the tournament also had a few nasty moments.
There were too many serious injuries. With Spain's two key players ruled out in match one and two with a broken arm and a dislocated shoulder, the men's medal hopes were shattered, even though they came close in the last group match against Britain.
Dutch men's coach Paul van Ass even mentioned the absence of midfielder Klaas Vermeulen following a collision with a Briton in the semi as one of the reasons why his side could not cancel out Germany in the final.
"We were looking for balance because Klaas couldn't play. His leadership is important for our team," he said.
Britain's skipper Kate Walsh broke her jaw in the first match, had surgery the next day and returned five days later to eventually lead her side to Olympic bronze.
A number of flesh and scalp wounds were also treated with players led off the field and often reappearing stitched up later on in the match, most notably New Zealand's Katie Glynn who was whacked on the head with a stray stick.
Few of any of these injuries resulted from foul play - hockey is a sport where most physical contact is penalised - but there were accidental collisions and the fast-travelling ball and stick can cause brutal damage.
The level of danger is something coaches want the International Hockey Federation (FIH) to address. They will have other problems too before Rio 2016.
Hockey's team video referral - where sides can challenge an umpire's decision in certain situations - at times caused more trouble than it was worth and will be reveiwed.
In any event, Rio could prove to be a very different tournament to London as a slew of top players are retiring, leaving youngsters to step up.
The Netherlands' Teun de Nooijer said Saturday's final was his last international match and Germany's defender Timo Wess is bowing out while among the women, Argentina's seven-times world player of the year Luciana Aymar could quit.
(Editing by Mark Meadows)