Hockey World Cup final: Germany, Belgium battle for glory

A cracker of a contest on the cards

BHUBANESWAR: At the 2012 London Olympics, as the Germany hockey team celebrated their gold-medal feat, Belgium were on their way home, having finished fifth.ย The Red Lions went back to the drawing board. Over six years they reinforced their strengths, worked on their weaknesses and did not stop until they achieved their goal of being the best in the world.

Germany, on the other hand, are still looking for a major championship title a decade later. From a country with virtually no hockey culture, the defending champions became the most talked about with World Cup (2018), European Championship (2019) and Olympic (2020) title triumphs. Belgium’s walk of champions began at the same venue in 2018 and they will hope to win their second title in as many appearances in the final.

Come Sunday night at the Kalinga stadium here, the two teams will seek to stake claim for the FIH World Cup. The golden generation of Belgian hockey will eye a final hurrah and who better than the giant-killers from Germany to stand in their way. The teams have played tough semifinal matches. While Germany snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the last seven seconds against Australia, Belgium showed nerves of steel to eliminate Netherlands.

There are many subplots to the stirring all-European contest, age being one of them. Belgium is the oldest team in the competition with 11 players above the age of 30. Five among the Germans feature in the 30+ category, six if you count their 39-year-old coach Andre Henning. But Felix Denayer and his Belgium team are no picture of ageing legs or aching limbs. They have outpaced and outplayed younger teams time and again. The finale will be won as much on tactics and technique as it will be on mental strength.

Henning is aware of what his men are up against. “At the moment, they are the best team. We respect them for what they have achieved. I have coached them at the U-18 level and they were already the strongest team in Europe at that time so I saw this coming. We would like to stop them but I don’t think they are vulnerable or have any disadvantage, so it won’t be easy,” explained the German coach.

One factor that could play on the mind of the Belgians is the momentum which favours Germany. Belgium weren’t really tested up until Netherlands almost ousted them. Germany has been like instant noodles. In their previous two matches, it’s taken them just two minutes to convert their undercooked performance to match-winning shows.

Germany’s spirit is not lost on Belgium’s coach Michel Van Den Heuvel, who knows how the slow starts can turn the match on its head in a few seconds. “As a natural character Germany are able to finish well. There is an old saying in Holland, you always win from the Germans when they are on the bus.”

The match promises to be a great advertisement for hockey with the starry line-ups. Belgium’s citadel is well protected with Vincent Vanasch under the bar. Tom Boon, has been the live wire and their top-scorer while the likes of Arthur Van Doren, Victor Wegnez, John-John Dohmen and Arthur de Sloover are all match-winners.

Source: TIMESOFINDIA.COM | January 29, 2023