At 35, Vincent Vanasch proved yet again why he is rated so highly on world hockey. On Friday, the veteran Belgian goalkeeper staved off a determined Dutch challenge in the shootout as the defending champion booked its second straight World Cup final spot after the teams were tied 2-2 at the end of regulation time.
The three-time consecutive FIH Goalkeeper of the Year (2017-19) denied Thijs van Dam and Terrance Pieters while Seve van Ass missed his shot. Belgium converted three of its four attempts at the other end to deservedly move into the title clash. Four years ago, Vanasch had been the hero in the final against the Dutch and it was no different this time around.
The Belgians, though, should have finished the game early. They were the better side all through, creating wave after wave of shots at the goal from every direction but failed to find a way past Dutch goalkeeeper Pirmin Blaak. Tom Boon kept lurking around in the circle for the final touch while Arthur van Doren, Antoine Kina and Florent van Aubel kept creating the openings and entering the Dutch circle.
For the first two quarters, it was more about possession and percentages and the teams split honours for 30 minutes. The Belgians hoped to score from aerial passes from deep its own half but could not finish the moves while the Dutch tried to chip away little by little through the field but were unable to breach the Belgian defence. It took Jip Janssen’s powerful flick to get the opener in the 12th minute only for Tom Boon to level scored three minutes from half time with a booming flick of his own.
Belgium came out much more attacking and determined post break and was all over Netherlands in the third quarter, muscling the ball through the field from all directions but a turnover in the 35th minute saw the Dutch earning back-to-back penalty corners and Janssen got them ahead again against the run of play.
But barring a few opportunistic runs along the baseline on the counter, the Dutch had little to show for their efforts, barely managing to get the ball inside the Belgian circle as the Red Sticks practically parked in the Dutch half and finally got the equaliser at the stroke of 4th quarter, Nicolas de Kerpel making no mistake in slotting the ball in through Blaak’s outstretched legs. A penalty stroke in the 51st minute for a tackle on de Kerpel could have sealed the win for Belgium but saw Blaak stood tall, denying Boon and then a few more, taking the game into the shootout. But it just wasn’t an Oranje day.
The result: Netherlands (Jip Janssen 12’, 36’) Belgium (Tom Boon 27’, Nicolas de Kerpel 45’).
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