Belgium booked a semifinal spot in style, ending New Zealand’s dreams of a maiden last-four World Cup appearance with a 2-0 win in the second quarterfinal here on Tuesday.
The defending champion stayed in control for most of the game and, despite missing quite a few shots at the goal, never appeared to be struggling. The margin, in fact, could have been much bigger had Belgium not hit wide once too often. At the other end, New Zealand managed just a couple of half-chances that never appeared dangerous.
Belgium got its first shot in the second minute itself but captain Felix Denayer could not connect in front of the goal. Tom Boon hit a backhand wide after a few minutes as the Belgian forwards appeared in a hurry to score but missing their targets as a result. Boon finally put his team ahead, flicking in the first PC in the 11th minute.
Belgium doubled the lead immediately on resumption through a beautiful coordinated move that started with Nicolas de Kerpel putting Simon Gougnard through, who passed it back to Florent van Aubel with a single touch on the run from near the backline and the latter deflecting it in. The Black Sticks tried to fight back but the Belgians clearly had done their homework, and learnt from India’s mistakes against the same opponent two days back.
They did not allow New Zealand any space in the midfield, did not let up the pressure at 2-0 up, kept their foot on the pedal throughout, pressed hard with possession and nipped any counterattacks early. At the back, the Belgian defence hardly allowed New Zealand entry into the circle, restricting them to the 25-yard line before launching counters. Their rivals, desperate to get one back, kept furrowing through both the flanks seeking space to at least create PCs but could only manage one in the whole game with the Belgian defenders always a step ahead to intercept.
The second half was comparatively more sedate but NZ barely got anywhere near the Belgian goal. All action was restricted to its own half and although no more goals were scored, it was Belgium all the way, who now takes on the winner of Netherlands and Korea, playing the last quarterfinal of the tournament on Wednesday evening, in the semifinals.
Also playing on Wednesday will be a confident England, looking to make its fourth straight semifinal appearance in the competition, against two-time former champion Germany.