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Dutch men defend European title in dramatic comeback against Belgium

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch men successfully defended their European hockey crown on home soil on Sunday, delivering a thrilling comeback against an in-form Belgian side who had beaten them 5-0 six days earlier.

The Dutch team claimed their fifth European gold in a 4-2 victory despite finding themselves 0-2 down at halftime at Amsterdam's Wagener stadium where the country gained its first European gold in 1983.

Dragflicker Mink van der Weerden made the difference for the home side by successfully dispatching one routine and having another hit the crossbar before striker Mirco Pruyser edged the ball over the goal line for 2-2.

Robbert Kemperman slotted home a skilfully controlled aerial pass and Pruyser appeared on the scoresheet a second time in the closing seconds of the game when Belgium had removed their goalkeeper to try to gain an on-field player advantage.

For Dutch coach Max Caldas, a former Argentine international, the European medal was a boon after the team finished empty-handed at last year's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro following a semi-final loss to Belgium and subsequently lost out on a bronze medal against Germany.

"The better team won today... We knew this was possible," he told Dutch broadcaster NOS, fighting back tears of joy.

The Dutch victory mirrors Saturday's result on the women's side where the world's number one team easily saw off first-time finalists Belgium in a 3-0 victory.

For Belgium, a European silver medal equals their best-ever result from 2013 on home soil when the team lost to Germany.

The medal adds to Belgium's growing success under the leadership of former New Zealand international Shane McLeod who coached the team to a surprise Olympic silver medal a year ago.

Belgian veteran player Tom Boon opened the scoring in the first quarter from a penalty corner drag flick, soon followed by a tip-in goal from striker Cedric Charlier.

The Belgians had started the tournament strongly, including putting five goals past the stunned Dutch hosts on Monday before they overcame Germany in a penalty shoot-out in Friday's semi-final.

(Reporting by Karolin Schaps; Editing by Clare Fallon)

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