India team of Hockey World Cup 2018, Belgium take the crown

Last Updated: Thu, Dec 20, 2018 13:51 hrs
Belgium win Hockey World Cup

Image Courtesy: @TheHockeyIndia

What was the probability of Belgium lifting the title at the start of the tournament?

16 teams featured in this edition. Five came as former champions - Australia, Netherlands, Pakistan, Germany and hosts India with 13 world titles between them; four as multiple winners - Pakistan 4, Australia, Netherlands (3) and Germany 2.

The rest 11 teams had one dream - to be crowned the new World Champions. Out of those, reigning Olympic champions Argentina were the overwhelming favourites to lift the trophy. Belgium, one of the most improved team, since their runners-up finish to Argentina at the Rio Olympics, was definitely the dark horse.

Up against the Netherlands, the three-time champions, who had slipped once against Germany in this edition, Belgium, the only unbeaten team in the tournament took the field with a tactical plan.

Keep a clean sheet for 60 minutes and then celebrate as if you had won the world title. Belgium did both and were upbeat going into the shootout.

However, standing in their way was the hero of Saturday night shootout against Australia, Blaak Pirmin.

Netherlands took first strike with Jeroen Hertzberger cannily putting it past Belgian keeper Vincent Vanasch. 1-0

Following that Belgium's most trusted Arthur van Doren and Felix Denayer failed against the Dutch wall, and despite a repeat failure by Mirco Pruijser, the Oranje team stayed ahead. 1-0

Jonas de Geus made it 2-0 in the Dutch's favour. A twist in the tale after that. Reds' Florent van Aubel scored finally opening Belgium account. After Seve van Ass missed, Victor Wegnez infused new hope in the Belgian camp tying the score 2-2.

Dutchman Thijs van Dam missed leaving Belgium a strike away from lifting their maiden World Cup.

In the final strike of the penalty shootout, Arthur de Sloover scored for Belgium triggering the celebrations --fireworks went up and even the event organisers started to set the stage for the prize ceremony. However, a video referral made the TV umpire rule against his goal, keeping the score static on 2-2.

Now down to sudden death, van Aubel put Belgium ahead for the first time 3-2 and the onus was on Hertzberger, who had nailed 3 out of 3 in shootouts in Bhubaneswar to keep the game alive. But when it mattered the most, it was the Belgian keeper Vanasch who came out on top with Hertzberger failing.

This time around even a video referral couldn't save the Dutch from the verdict. The jury adjudged Vanasch man-of-the-match leaving a heartbroken Oranje corner at the Kalinga Stadium. Belgium savoured their first World Cup victory amidst fireworks that adorned the sky keeping the spectators distracted while Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik safely left the stadium with the satisfaction of a job well done.

Earlier, Australia needed a consolation prize after losing out on a spot in the gold medal clash after Netherlands pipped them in the shootout. But it wasn't just a bronze medal that they were after. The Kookaburras, by far the most superior of the lot, was desperate for a huge win to calm their battered ego.

England was the victim of the Aussie fury in the bronze match. Even as the men-in-yellow were leading 6-1 by the end of the third quarter, the Reds played as though they knew the outcome even before the final hooter. Australia promptly converted 2 more penalty corners in the final quarter to take their total PC tally to 12. Australia finished as the top scorer of the tournament with 29 goals, while Belgium and Netherlands ended with 22 each.

India, that finished fourth in that list with 13, was named the team of the tournament, and that news was received with thunderous applause only second to that given to the special guest of the evening, the legendary Sachin Tendulkar.