By Rod Gilmour | Antwerp
Belgium 4 Germany 2
So, a handball in a major sporting semi-final went against Germany as Belgium memorably, brilliantly and ruthlessly reached their third EuroHockey final in four editions, played out in front of a raucous home crowd who bayed for more – and got four. This was Belgium-mania.
Germany were 2-0 up, leading with classic German efficiency, hurting Belgium against the run of play. Before the tide turned in a super third quarter. Before Germany capitulated under the wave of late circle penetration to earn a shot at a first continental title against Spain on Sunday, a day Antwerp may well be deserted after this epic.
Nicolas de Kerpel told The Hockey Paper afterwards: “It wasn’t that we had to change at half-time. It was a little wake up call and to win the 50-50 battles and once the crowd came behind us, it was unstoppable and this was the most craziest experience I’ve ever had.”
And for the crowd, too. After Spain’s dismantling of Holland, and the opening quarter here, there was the prospect of both world finalists falling short of the final. But that Bhubaneswar win has instilled some resolve in the Belgian camp.
They hit the post early in the contest and then saw Christopher Rhur and Florian Fuchs give Germany a cushion at the break.
Belgium’s early PC salvos weren’t firing – Alexander Henrickx wasn’t on song – which kept the multiple Euro champs in the hunt, as did Viktor Aly in Germany’s goal. But a penalty stroke decision went against them.
Belgium edged possession, circle entries and penalty corners through the match. And finally pressure told when Tom Boon finally found the backboard in the 42nd minute. Cue hysteria.
Germany still had resolve and a PC at the other end nearly regained the two-goal cushion. But a replay showed a German hand on the injection trap and the crowd responded with jeers.
The atmosphere had been raised and Belgium immediately broke up field, winning a PC and de Kerpel netted with six minutes left. The circle was now as much a magnet as a tourist to Belgian chocolate.
The players were abuzz. Victor Wegnez won a corner and punched the air like a crazed boxer might after a heavyweight knockdown. There was time for acrobatics in the Belgian circle as Germans went airborne with a loose ball.
But Wegnez scored moments later to more cacophony. It was a stunning reverse strike. The game was up. But not before another crazed Wegnez run. And when Cedric Charlier tapped into an open net, German shoulders dropped and ushered in one of the most memorable of EuroHockey matches. Incredible.
FT: Belgium 4 Germany 2. World champs are into the Euro final to play Spain. Incredible last 30 minutes. Eurohockey on the continent is a joy to watch at times. Utterly memorable. #ehc2019 pic.twitter.com/Sv5h47aNj0
— The Hockey Paper (@TheHockeyPaper) August 22, 2019