The proceedings at the 14th edition of the Hockey World Cup were started with an encounter between Belgium and Canada on November 28. The highly anticipated tournament is being held at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. Belgium vs Canada was the first match to be played on the initial day of the mega event and was followed by a match between the hosts India and South Africa.
It was never going to be an easy task for 11th ranked Canada as they were up against the mighty Belgians, who are currently ranked 3rd in the world as per the FIH Rankings. The Red Lions are a formidable unit and were coming into the clash as the favourites.
Belgium had finished as runners-up during the Rio Olympics and bagged the silver medal. On the contrary, Canada narrowly missed out on the wooden spoon (and finished 2nd overall) in Brazil as they grabbed one point thanks to a 2-2 draw against India in Group B.
The North American side, which is coached by Paul Bundy, finished in the 8th spot the 2018 Commonwealth Games. The Canadians only managed to finish at 11th place in the 2010 Hockey World Cup and did not even qualify for the 2014 edition in the Netherlands.
On the other hand, the Belgian team started 2018 on a high but had a slump of form during the recently concluded six-nation Champions Trophy at Breda where they finished 5th out of 6 teams. Despite this brief setback, Shane McLeod and his troops are one of the favourites for the title in Bhubaneswar as they will be hungry to improve upon the 5th place finish in the previous edition.
In the 9 matches the two teams have played previously, 7 had been won by the Red Lions while 2 had been draws. Canada are yet to win a match against Belgium, who take their tally of wins to 8 with the 2-1 win today.
The battle between the two contrasting sides was that of Belgium's attack and Canada's defense. Without further ado, let's dive into the 5 talking points of the first match of the Hockey World Cup which was played between Belgium and Canada in front of a sparsely populated crowd:
#5 Attacking mindset and an early goal by Belgium in Quarter 1
The Red Lions created a flurry of chances early on and had the Canadian team on the backfoot. The penetration by the Belgian attackers and midfielders was just too hot to handle. Felix Denayer made the most of the opportunity he got and helped his side get the lead in the 3rd minute itself as he deflected a fast grounded pass into the net. Tom Boon also must be credited for firing in the vicious ball into a dangerous area.
The 2017 European Championship silver medallists were indeed showing why they are number 3 in the world. Even though the possession was evenly divided in the first quarter, Canada had most of the possession in their own half while Belgium had over 77 % possession in the opposition half.
On the other hand, even though Canada enjoyed 53% possession in the first quarter, 78% of it was in their own half. How will maintaining possession in your own territory be helpful though?
Belgium made 6 circle penetrations in the first quarter itself and had 4 shots compared to 1 circle penetration and 0 shots of Canada.
There was another impressive attack by Belgium after good play from the right flank. Tom Boons had kept the ball in play to assist Thomas Briels. However, he had done so with the back of his stick and the free hit went to the opposition. Briels had started to celebrate but the referee went for the video referral -- which clearly showed that the ball had struck the back of Tom's stick and the goal had to be ruled out.
The impact of missing out on this goal was not too much on the result as the Belgian team went on to win the match 2-1 in the end. However, this goal would certainly have provided them a cushion and they would not have had to scramble in the end.