(UNI) The final of the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup will be an all-European affair, with Belgium’s Red Lions facing the Netherlands after a thrilling day of semi-final action at the Kalinga Stadium on Saturday. Belgium made a massive statement with a staggering 6-0 semi-final triumph over England in the first match of the day, while Australia’s hopes of winning a third successive World Cup title were ended by European champions the Netherlands, who emerged victorious in a shoot-out after a breathless contest finished with the scores locked together at 2-2.
Belgium– wearing black armbands in memory of Simon Gougnard’s father, who sadly passed away on Friday – were absolutely sensational against England, a team that had reached the semi-finals for the third World Cup in succession. The Red Lions themselves were aiming to reach a third major final in as many years, following the silver medals won at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and the EuroHockey Championships 2017.
Striker Tom Boon gave Belgium the perfect start, getting ahead of his marker to deflect past England goalkeeper George Pinner in the eighth minute. That lead was almost doubled when Boon – later named Odisha Player of the Match – dived at full stretch to touch on a searching pass from Loick Luypaert onto the England cross-bar. Belgium took a 2-0 lead into half time thanks to the outstanding Gougnard, who pounced on a penalty corner rebound to smash into England’s net shortly before Sebastien Dockier wasted a brilliant chance from close range, failing to convert after some fine set-up play from Florent Van Aubel.
England – searching for their first World Cup final appearance since the Willesden 1986 event on home soil – came out firing in the third quarter, playing their best hockey of the match in a bid to drag themselves back into the contest. However, their hopes were cruelly dashed when Cedric Charlier’s blistering strike finished off a rapid counter-attack, leaving Danny Kerry’s team with a mountainous task to overcome.
A penalty corner double from Alexander Hendrickx – his sixth and seventh goals of a hugely productive World Cup – either side of the quarter-time break all but sealed a Belgian victory, with Sebastien Dockier firing a late sixth into the roof of Pinner’s net to complete an emphatic 6-0 triumph.
Speaking after the match, Belgium captain Thomas Briels said, “We worked really hard for this success. It was a big challenge. Especially after the Germany victory, we had a tough game and we wanted to be really ready for this challenge and I think we did a really good job today. It feels amazing to be in the final.”
“It was really our big goal to be in the last game of the tournament and hopefully we can do one more step and play even better than today. We really hope we can bring the Cup home. We have to recover first. It’s going to be another really tough game. But I think we still have the energy to deliver one more good performance,” he added.
The second semi-final was a replay of the World Cup final of 2014, with reigning champions Australia and the Netherlands taking to the field for what proved to be a truly epic encounter. The Kookaburras came into the game having just conceded once in their previous four games here in Bhubaneswar, but that all changed in one of the best games seen at the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup 2018. After soaking up some early Australian pressure, the Netherlands took the lead when Jonas de Geus surged around the back of the Kookaburras’ defence before finding Glenn Schuurman who made no mistake from close range.
Seve van Ass made it 2-0 in the second quarter when his attempted cross was inadvertently deflected into the Australian net by Tim Howard, giving the Dutch some breathing space. Australia’s response was fierce, with Dutch goalkeeper Pirmin Blaak producing numerous high-quality blocks to keep the title holders off the score-sheet ahead of the half time break. The match continued to move from end-to-end at breakneck speed, with Australia pulling a goal back through Howard’s ferocious slap-shot from the top of the circle to give his team hope going into the final quarter. Blaak – later named Odisha Player of the Match – continued his sensational form in the fourth period by making further crucial saves, including a remarkable close-range block from Flynn Ogilvie who seemed almost certain to score. Australia’s equaliser arrived with just 26 seconds of the match remaining, and there was little Blaak could do about it. Eddie Ockenden was the scorer, brilliantly intercepting an aerial pass before eventually getting a first time shot towards goal, only for the unfortunate Schuurman to edge the ball through his goalkeeper’s legs to send the match to a shoot-out.
With both teams missing twice, the shoot-out score was locked at 3-3 and went to sudden-death. Jeroen Hertzberger made no mistake with the first of the sudden-death efforts, piling the pressure on Daniel Beale, who needed to score to keep Australian hopes alive.
However, it was Blaak and the Netherlands who would emerge triumphant, with the goalkeeper standing tall to make a superb stick save to put the Oranje into the World Cup final at the expense of the defending champions. Speaking after the match, Netherlands forward Jeroen Hertzberger – who scored twice in the shoot-out – said, “It was great. I think we deserve to win. We made it very hard for ourselves but at the end of the day we kept our focus and deserved to win the game. To be honest, the shoot-outs were obviously a bit nerve-breaking but there’s also something amazing about it.” “I had real confidence that we were going to win. I had so much confidence in our goalie even after we missed. Belgium are a good team obviously. It’s not for nothing that they are in the World Cup final and were in the Olympic final. We’re going to have to be even better than today and then I think we have a good chance to win,” he added. The medal matches will take place on Sunday, with England playing Australia for bronze at 1630 hours before Belgium and the Netherlands – who met in the final of the EuroHockey Championships 2017 – take to the field at 1900 hours for the chance to be crowned as champions of the world.