Belgium, on a dramatic Sunday night, scripted history by winning their first-ever World Cup in front of a packed Kalinga hockey stadium.
After playing out a goalless draw against the Netherlands (three-time champions) in the regulation time, the match extended to a penalty shootout.
The Belgians started celebrating after Arthur de Sloover slotted the ball into the net in their fifth chance in the shootout, which they thought had ended 3-2 in their favour. But the goal was disallowed after the TV umpire found that the ball hit his foot.
Within a few seconds, they had to return from euphoria to the uncertainty of sudden death. Florent van Aubel scored and Vincent Vanasch saved, setting off Belgium’s celebration again. But their coach, Shane McLeod, recalling the moment after the match, said, “I was thinking it’s a sad joke. That’s what it felt like for a split second. It was taken away from us. Massive rush of adrenaline. I think my bottle went about 50 metres in the air.”
“It’s been a funny day. We told during pre-game that if the stars were aligned, we will be wining the World Cup,” he said of the win.
Apart from tension, drama and history, Belgium would cherish this victory because it was hard-earned. The Netherlands hardly gave them an opportunity to pull away from the game.
McLeod said his team won a close contest.
“Sport is a bit unfair,” he said. “There is always a winner and loser. Our guys would have been devastated for sure if they lost. We have to give Holland the credit. They played a good defensive game. We take the victory but don’t deny it was such a close game.”
Arthur van Doren, FIH Player of the Year (2017), has been a lynchpin of the Belgian side. The 24-year-old defender was awarded the player of the tournament on Sunday.
“Arthur van Doren is special, lucky guy,” said McLeod. “He is also one of the players who never considers himself above others. He gives us some security, allows others to play more attacking.”
Captain Thomas Briels, on his team’s title triumph, said, “We worked really hard. We can’t believe we are world champions. When we started in 2007, we were a team ranked 12th in the world [sic]. The coaching staff in the past have built this team. We are just grateful we can give back [to Belgian hockey]. If we win, it leads to more victories [in future]. We have the European Cup next. It will be rally nice to play that as a world champion, there is also Pro League this year and then Olympics.”