After more than two weeks of intense action, the 2018 Hockey World Cup reached a befitting conclusion with a pulsating final at the Kalinga Stadium. Following a goalless sixty minutes of engrossing defensive skills in regulation time, Belgium defeated Netherlands 3-2 in a thrilling penalty shootout and clinched their maiden World Cup title.
With neither team willing to give an inch, the title clash produced four quarters of end-to-end stuff. Although both sides came close to breaking the deadlock, the tenacity of the defenders ensured that the World Cup was decided by a shootout.
Despite gaining an early advantage in the shootout, Netherlands began to buckle under stifling pressure. There was added drama as Dutch goalkeeper Pirmin Blaak expertly used the Review System to take it to sudden death.
With Florent van Aubel scoring, the onus was on Jeroen Hertzberger to keep the Netherlands in the game. However, the experienced striker sent the ball high and wide. Consequently, Belgium attained their moment of glory in Bhubaneswar.
Here are the three standout players from the riveting final between Belgium and Netherlands.
#3 Billy Bakker (Netherlands)
Leading from the front in such a high-pressure game, Billy Bakker worked tirelessly and tried his valiant best to create scoring opportunities for his strikers. The veteran midfielder controlled the flow for his team in such a manner that they were able to switch from attack to defence in a seamless manner.
Bakker was at his enterprising best during the first quarter. He demonstrated his ability to cover a significant distance by cutting through the Belgian defence. However, his productive work did not yield any goals for the Dutch.
As the game progressed, Bakker took on a slightly defensive role in order to prevent the Red Lions from constructing dangerous passes. For the Netherlands, their captain was unarguably the standout player in regulation time.
#2 Florent van Aubel (Belgium)
After being largely inconspicuous in the preceding matches of the tournament, Florent van Aubel rose to the occasion when it mattered the most. He scored twice during the penalty shootout and propelled Belgium to glory.
In regulation time, van Aubel came the closest to breaching the deadlock for the Red Lions. At the 32nd minute, his fierce strike was saved brilliantly by Dutch goalkeeper Pirmin Blaak. He continued to work steadfastly and even managed to penetrate the inner circle on quite a few occasions.
During the penalty shootout, van Aubel got his first chance when Belgium were trailing by one. Having watched the likes of Arthur van Doren and Felix Denayer miss, the 27-year old held his nerve to help the Red Lions pull level. His lethal backhand managed to off-set Blaak's anticipation.
When the penalty shootout came to sudden death, van Aubel had his second chance to make an impact. Backing his skills under massive pressure, the seasoned striker found a way past Blaak and made life easier for Vincent Vanasch.
#1 Vincent Vanasch (Belgium)
If it was Pirmin Blaak's moment of reckoning in the Netherlands' semifinal against Australia, this was Vincent Vanasch's time to shine. The Belgian goalkeeper displayed stellar anticipation and sharp reflexes to outsmart the Dutch strikers in the high-octane penalty shootout.
In regulation time, Vanasch made numerous sterling saves to keep the scoreline intact. Right at the start of the match, he came to Belgium's rescue against the rampaging Jeroen Hertzberger. During a challenging phase in the final quarter, the veteran goalkeeper successfully kept the Netherlands attackers at bay.
During the penalty shootout, Vanasch brought his team back into the contest by denying Mirco Pruijser. Showing the value of experience in such tense situations, he kept his cool and managed to predict the feet movements of the Dutch strikers.
The 30-year old watched the ball closely and made a move at the precise instants. The goalkeeper's acute awareness played a key role in the Netherlands missing their last three chances in the shootout. Deservedly, Vanasch was named Player of the Match.