Hockey World Cup: Experienced Belgium takes on high-flying New Zealand

Belgium will be concerned about the availability of its penalty corner expert Alexander Hendrickx, who twisted his knee against Japan.

New Zealand players celebrate after winning against India, in the 2023 Men’s FIH Hockey World Cup match in Bhubaneswar.

New Zealand players celebrate after winning against India, in the 2023 Men’s FIH Hockey World Cup match in Bhubaneswar. | Photo Credit: Gurinder Osan

Belgium will be concerned about the availability of its penalty corner expert Alexander Hendrickx, who twisted his knee against Japan.

Reigning world and Olympic champion Belgium, looking to book a World Cup semifinal spot for the second consecutive time, would be wary of a revitalised New Zealand when they play their quarterfinal on Tuesday, despite recent form and history both in its favour. Then again, the team would have seen how these meant little in the Black Sitcks’ crossover game against India.

New Zealand, the lowest-ranked side left in the competition, will be riding high after its sudden death win against the host. It will take confidence from a gritty performance and the form of its senior players and hope to continue the momentum. It is easier said than done, of course, especially with Belgium being in imperious scoring form and hitting its stride in the pool matches with a 7-1 demolition of Japan in its last outing.

Experienced Tom Boon, without a goal in the opening two games, came to the party against Japan as Belgium finally showed signs of the dominance that made it the world’s top team over the past few years to top Pool C, ahead of fellow European powerhouse Germany.

It might be the oldest side in the fray with coach Michel van den Heuvel retaining most of the players from the past edition – 11 of its squad is over 30 – but it is the most experienced, with 11 having more than 200 caps. Combining experience with form and fitness is something the Belgians have done expertly and they will be keen to prove that experience was not, in fact, overrated.

The team, however, will be concerned about the availability of its penalty corner expert Alexander Hendrickx, who twisted his knee against Japan. While he seems to have gotten better the team management will take a a call on his continuation,on the morning of the game.

For New Zealand, veterans Simon Child and Nick Ross have been the backbone of their fightback, after struggling to find rhythm in its early matches with just one win in the pool stages. The duo has combined effortlessly with younger players Sean Findlay, Sam Lane and Sam Hiha to keep pressure on the opposition. The team, however, was equally helped by an erratic India in the crossover game and handed open spaces and scoring chances on a platter, something they can’t count on against the Belgians.

New Zealand would be relying on its ability to capitalise on key moments and counterattacks, something coach Greg Nicol has been insisting on all through, to reach its maiden semifinal.

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