Bhubaneswar: Olympic champions Belgium will look to overcome a resilient Germany and become only the fourth nation to defend the FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup title when the two sides clash in the final here at Kalinga Stadium Sunday.
Pakistan, Australia and Germany have won back-to-back titles in the past and Belgium, who made it to the world’s elite just around a decade ago, would seek to achieve that feat and defend their title, which they won in 2018, at the same Kalinga Stadium.
With 11 players aged above 30 and three above 35, Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ of hockey players, who have won the 2018 World Cup and Tokyo Olympics golds, have shown that they are supremely fit and experience matters more than age.
Belgium has come with the bulk of the team which had won the last edition of the event and Tokyo Games.
It is difficult to find out any major weakness in this Belgium team which has some of the world’s finest attacking and defensive players as well as penalty corner specialists.
They also have one of the best goalkeepers in the world in the form of Vincent Vanasch.
Belgium has scored 18 goals with star striker Tom Boon contributing seven and conceded just five in as many matches.
But the world no.2 side would be wary of the “German culture of resilience” which has been on full display in this World Cup as the Die Honamas twice came back from 0-2 down to reach the final.
Two-time champions Germany (2002 and 2006) were trailing by two goals against England in the quarterfinals but struck twice in the last two and half minutes to take the game into a penalty shootout, where they emerged winner.
In the semifinals on Friday, world number four Germans were again trailing Australia, one of the title contenders, by 0-2 at halftime but their never-say-die attitude came to the fore as they made fought back to level the scores before finding the winner in dramatic fashion with just six seconds left on the clock.
“We have a lot of respect for the German side who came out of jail twice in this tournament and won. That is something which is there in their culture,” Belgium head coach Michel van del Heuvel said.
“Germany is a very tough side. We hope to save our best for the last. We will analyse their game and chalk out our plan,” added Belgium captain Felix Denayer.
The depth in the Belgium team can also be gauged from the fact that the absence of penalty corner expert and star defender Alexander Hendrickx due to injury early in the tournament was not felt.
The only chink in their armour could be that Belgium has depended mostly on Boon to score the goals. Florent Van Aubel, Cedric Charlier and Sebastien Dockier have scored just two goals each.
Arthur Van Doren and Arthur de Sloover will be the main men in the Belgium defence while captain Denayer and Victor Wegnez will try to control the midfield.
Germany, on the other hand, will be looking to clinch their first title after 2006 and join the club of the other three countries to have won the World Cup thrice or more. Apart from the advantage of having recorded two come-from-behind wins, the Germans have been able to succeed in different playing situations.
Germany adopted a man-to-man marking game against England, while they played a zonal system against Australia in the semifinals.
They did not allow the normally fluid Australians to play their attacking style of play, with more ball possession.
The form of penalty corner expert Gonzalo Peillat, who won the 2016 Olympics gold with Argentina but now represents Germany, will be key for the Die Honamas as his hat-trick was instrumental in the 4-3 win over Australia.
“We need to continue to trust ourselves in our ability and in our mental toughness. Our ball possession game against Australia was unbelievable and we would want to continue that. We want to win the World Cup,” German captain Mats Grambusch said.
The two sides were together in the same group and there was nothing to separate them in their 2-2 draw Pool B match.
Tom Grambusch, the younger brother of captain Mats, and Niklas Wellen scored in that match, and the duo will be Germany’s key players once again Sunday.
Tom will be the defensive bulwark while Wellen, the man of the match against Australia, has been the standout player for Germany in this event with his mesmerising forays in the opposition circle yielding six goals in as many games.
Historically also, there is not much to differentiate between the two teams with Belgium having won 15 out of the 35 matches they have played against each other. Germany has won 13 times while seven matches were drawn.
Germany has beaten Belgium just once — in the FIH Pro League match in November last year — since July 2017.
Losing semifinalists Australia and Netherlands will face each other in the bronze medal match earlier in the day.
By Philem Dipak Singh
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