Belgium hockey’s golden generation has already had many firsts to its name, and on Sunday, Felix Denayer and his men would be hoping to add another to their long list of achievements – winning two world titles
in as many final appearances, on the same ground, as they did it four years ago.
The oldest side in the competition has outplayed and outrun younger opponents to be one step away from achieving that but will have to get past a stubborn and dangerous Germany, searching for its third title and improving with every game as the tournament has progressed including upturning the results in the last few minutes. That it has done so the hard way, coming through the crossovers and finding a new star in every victory has ensured the world number three will be high on confidence going into the final match of the competition.
Germany Coach Andre Henning admitted it won’t be easy but insisted the team was looking at maintaining its own positive and structure to triumph. “I have coached them at the Under-18 level and they were already the strongest team in Europe at that time so I saw this coming. We would like to stop them, in the most respectful way, but to be honest, I don’t think they are vulnerable or have any disadvantage, so it won’t be easy,” he said.
“They are clearly the best team at the moment and we respect them a lot for what they have achieved in the last couple of years. What we have done is to look at our own qualities, the high zonal press through the midfield which has always been Germany’s strength and we have been improving on it a lot,” he explained.
All things being equal, it just might come down to the one word Henning insisted on: attitude. Germany’s last-second goals in the last couple of games have been all about belief despite trailing and staying in the game right through, and it would also be Belgium’s biggest challenge.
The team had had a comparatively easier journey barring the semifinal when it had to dig deep and come back from being down twice to win in the shootout. But it has also had to suffer the loss of Alexander Hendrickx to injury, although that hasn’t affected its scoring prowess in any way with Tom Boon stepping in effortlessly into the role aside from finding the net on his own upfront. The team has also appeared determined to be out to prove those questioning their age wrong, falling back on the same attitude that has made them reigning world and Olympic champions.
The last time the two sides met, in the pool stage of the competition here, they shared honours in a game where neither slipped up. On Sunday, there will be a clear winner and regardless of who it might be, there will be no shortage of intensity on the field.
Earlier in the day, Australia will take on the Netherlands with both teams hoping to go back with a medal from the competition even if it isn’t the one they would have wished for. Both teams finished on the podium in 2018 and have faltered in the semifinals, but will be hoping to end on a high. Australia last finished outside the medal bracket in 1998, interestingly hosted by the Dutch, and Colin Batch would not want that to happen again but a hurting Netherlands can be expected to come out firing.