Sudipta Biswas | Kolkata
In a shimmering Sunday night, Belgium clinched their maiden Hockey World Cup title by beating the Netherlands in the shootout in a nail-biting final at Kalinga Stadium in Bhuvneshwar. During the regulation time, both sides failed to breach the defensive shackles of each other since neither side was at their defensive best. With this title win, Belgium became the sixth nation to lift the coveted trophy.
But, the sweet moment didn’t come easily at all. When Arthur de Sloover marched to attempt the penalty stroke in the shootout, his shot took a reverse hit into the net. As the Red Lions secured 3-2 win over the Dutch their players started celebrating. But, the Orange Army was not ready to accept the defeat. They had taken a review. The slow-motion action replay showed Sloover hit his leg. Subsequently, the goal was cancelled. The celebrations cut short. The shootout ended at 2-2. The Dutch goalie Pirmin Blaak threw his fist in the air, taking the cue that their hope of winning the fourth World Cup title was not over yet.
In the crunching final, the team which manages to hold its nerves go home with everything on offer. If one goes by the history of sports, the team with steely resolve always emerge the winner. Losing the encounter of nerves means you have lost half of the battle.
The dynamic Red Lions were not in a mood to let the big moment slip away from their hands. As the penalty shootout failed to bring the result to the game the match went to sudden death. This time, Florent van Aubel stepped up to take the penalty stroke and got past Blaak to find the back of the net. The Netherlands once again went for the review, but this time it had struck Blaak’s leg. So, the goal was counted. When Netherlands’ turn came, their renowned striker Jeroen Hertzberger moved to attempt it. But, he failed to dodge Belgium goalkeeper. In the wake of a tough challenge from the goalie, Hertzberger went for a quick hit and it went over the goal.
In the process, Belgium scripted a history by winning their maiden gold at Federation of International Hockey’s marquee tournament. The Kalinga Stadium turned glossy red.
But, have you ever heard a team win the World Cup twice in one night? Belgium’s luck was tested; there was a pause in their celebrations. As Belgium was crowned champions by the end of sudden death, boundless celebrations broke out at Kalinga Stadium.
When Belgium coach Shane McLeod was asked about it, he said that there was an adrenaline rush that led you to do things what you would normally do.
This was also Belgium’s first major tournament triumph since 2011 when they won Champions Challenge in Johannesburg. They were beaten by Australia in the finals of 2016 Olympics Games and lost to the Netherlands in the final of 2017 European championships. So, it was a sort of revenge for the Red Lions.
Will this World Cup victory help Belgium hockey to earn wide acceptance among people of the nation?
Belgium, who have emerged fast as the new powerhouse of field hockey, are happy on winning the gold as their hard work and dedication to the nation has finally paid off. Now, it is expected that this win will bring a sea change in the sport’s acceptance among the people of the Western European nation. Though Belgium has a rich history of hockey, dating back to 1902, the sport found it hard to win the hearts in the country.
If the sport attracts people’s attention following their maiden World Cup win, big brands would come to the Red Lions thick and fast. So far, Belgium players played for their nation out of love. Nothing was on offer for them. The money they receive from the national federation is not enough to live their lives. Thus, it is expected that this historic win will beef up the popularity of the sport in Belgium like the way football has become popular in the country.
(The views expressed by the writer are his own and not of the Ground Report)