When Colin Batch led a rookie team from Belgium into the London Olympics 2012, little did he know that he was setting up a legacy that would soon an unprecedented rise to the pinnacle. Surprising many teams, Belgium, dismissed otherwise as a weakling, secured a respectable 5th position.
6 years later, when Belgium faced the very team they had beaten in their route to a dream finals at Rio Olympics 2016, people expected the much more experienced Dutch team to prevail. Besides, Netherlands was desperately yearning for a World Championship title for the last 2 decades. The Red Lions, however had other plans.
Kalinga Stadium witnessed some of the most polished skills that has made European hockey a force to reckon with. None of the teams were ready to budge even an inch. If Belgium attacked the Dutch posts, the Dutch fought back with equal enthusiasm.
By the time the regulation time of 60 minutes had ended, the score was a surprise 0-0, which meant that after 24 long years, the winner of the World Cup finals would not be a one sided affair, but would be decided by the lively penalty shootout which was introduced for the first time at the 2014 FIH World Cup.
To the delight of the audience, and possibly to the frustration of the coaches, none of teams were able to dominate even in the penalty shootout, with the score being locked at 2-2 after the normal 5 shuffles taken by each team. It was here that two people emerged as the heroes for Belgium - goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch and star striker Florent Van Aubel.
While Vincent Vanasch denied a crucial strike by star Dutch player Jeroen Hertzberger, Florent Van Aubel stunned the hero of the previous match - goalkeeper Pirmin Blaak - to score the goal that created history at Kalinga Stadium. Not only had Belgium won the match, they had also won their first ever FIH Men's Hockey World Cup.
Here are three reasons why the Red Lions defeated Netherlands in the final of the 2018 Hockey World Cup.
#3 Fighting tooth and nail with the Dutch attackers
One of the most impressive points about the Belgian team is their never say die attitude. Much like a resurgent India, they don't stick to the past failures and renew themselves for the next assault. The same occurred when they met Netherlands for the ultimate showdown.
Right from the word go, the writing was on the wall. This was not going to be a one sided affair. Both sides jostled equally for the ball and were not ready to budge even an inch towards the other.
Belgium, who had a relatively cleaner campaign as compared to the rest of the teams, made it clear that this was a fight to the finish. Their struggle brought fruits, when the score was 0-0 even after the 60th minute, forcing the Dutch to play it out for the title once again in the penalty shootout.
#2 Vincent Vanasch rises to the occasion
Vincent Vanasch has to be one of the best goalkeepers of this World Cup. Having led the team to a silver medal at the Rio Olympics, he was extremely instrumental in maintaining the clean slate against England when the Red Lions pummeled them by a mammoth score of 6-0.
In the same fashion, Vanasch came to the rescue of Belgium when Netherlands intensified their attack in the last two quarters. When it seemed that Netherlands were improvising on their attack, he smashed the bubble rather brutally by denying any of the 9 circle entries made by the Dutch to convert into a goal and kept the slate clean.
Interestingly, Belgium has had a mixed record in terms of penalty shuffles. However, this time, Vanasch was in no mood to make mistakes. Despite being bogged by constant attacks from the Dutch side, he denied 4 crucial shuffles, including the one by Jeroen Hertzeberger, and gave Belgium their first ever World Cup title.
#1 Holding their nerve in the penalty shootout
When Netherlands pipped Australia by 4-3 in the penalty shootout in the second semifinals of the FIH World Cup 2018, it looked as if the Dutch were all set for a record 4th title.
When the match was stretched to a penalty shootout, all eyes were set on the hero of the previous night, Pirmin Blaak, and it was expected from him to end the 2 decade old World Cup drought for the Dutch. Belgium, however, had other plans.
For the first three shuffles, Netherlands had executed their plans really well. They were ahead by 2-1, and the Dutch crowd was all eager to join in the celebrations that would follow. However, the beauty of the lively penalty shuffles is that it isn't over until the last shot.
The fourth series of shuffles changed the equations,when Vincent Vanasch denied star striker Seve Van Ass a crucial goal, while Florent van Aubel chipped in a goal to equalize the score by 2-2.
The last series went blank, which further stretched the match to sudden death. When Florent Van Aubel scored the goal to give Belgium a lead of 3-2, winds of change were felt by the crowds. Vincent Vanasch then executed a superb save against Jeroen Hertzberger to give Belgium a historic victory.