By The Hockey Paper, Bhubaneswar
When Jeroen Hertzberger missed his sudden death shoot out attempt for the Netherlands, Belgium could finally celebrate a first world title – at the second time of asking.
Another defensive masterclass and dominant display between the posts from Vincent Vanasch had left the Netherlands short of their usual penetrative circle skills.
Instead, Belgium forced the Dutch into wide pockets and tried to break in central lines. The Olympic and European runners-up had several overlaps, but couldn’t make it count.
Just two PCs, 30 circle entries (the Dutch notched nearly 200 in all) and under 10 shots, underlined the tactics behind this final, the first to finish goalless.
A shoot out seemed inevitable. despite Belgium ending as favourites to win it in normal time. It was almost as if both these European heavyweights were playing for the draw.
When the shoot out eventually came, no one could have predicted the drama.
Belgium looked down and out after missing their first two attempts. But then Vanasch suddenly forced the Dutch into errors, leaving Arthur de Sloover to slot home for a stunning turnaround.
The ceremonial presentation displays came as the Red Lions descended into the circle. Amid the mayhem, De Sloover’s goal has been referred upstairs and the Belgian has been adjudged to have backed into Pirmin Blaak. Sudden death.
Florent van Aubel went wide then back and slung low, leaving Hertzberger to keep the final alive. Seconds later, Belgium were celebrating once more.
First Emmanuel Stockbroekx had to leave the Belgian camp in the first week in India with a hamstring.
Then inspirational John-John Dohmen was forced home after their opening match. At first it was feared he had bronchitis but he is currently lying in a Bangkok hospital with a form of pneumonia.
Then Simon Gougnard’s ill father passed away before their semi-final. He played – and scored against England, having opted to stay in India.
Unbeknown to the team, Stockbroekx, now back home, had visited the homes of all 18 squad players and edited a 50-minute video as a reminder to the team of their bad luck but acting as a best wishes for the final fling.
Coach Shane McLeod gathered the team in a hotel conference room and played the video. He then told them, after suffering several big final losses since 2015, that their campaign to win gold “was written in the stars”.
The (light) rain Gods on Sunday then sided with Belgium.
They had started the tournament by scoring the first goal of this World Cup, in the third minute back on November 28. The Red Lions were finally left to roar at the end of the longest World Cup yet staged.
A 12-year odyssey for the rise of Belgian hockey had been realised.
Belgium, at the second time of asking, are world champions. Their 'winning' shoot out went to a video replay. It went to sudden death. Belgium stood firm.
Shane McLeod, Belgium coach