Belgium were not among the top 10 hockey teams in the world a few years ago. But under what is being termed as the “golden generation” featuring some experienced players, the Red Lions rose, in the rankings and in stature. After playing the Olympics 2016 final in Rio, they booked themselves a chance to win the gold at World Cup for the first time after running amock in a 6-0 win over England at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, Odisha on Saturday.
The win was an emotional moment for the team. Just a day before the match, midfielder Simon Gougnard suffered a personal tragedy. His father, who had been ill, had passed away. The fact that the Belgium No. 22 scored a goal in the second quarter only added to the emotions of the day.
“It’s been pretty tough on us,” Belgium’s Felix Denayer said after the match. “We have been playing with Simon. I have known half of my life. His father was a big fan of us. We are all a big family. Him losing someone close to his heart, we wanted to do something really good for him. I am really happy he scored. It was a relief for him and us. We are happy we could give him this. Tomorrow is the last step,”
Belgium were always expected to be dominant against England. England coach Danny Kerry had predicted that his side’s opponents for the day were going to play with a large shape from the corners. He could not be more correct. From the get go, Loick Luypaert and Arthur van Doren pushed from the corners to lure England’s midfielders towards that part of the pitch. As soon as England tried to cover the space, Belgium players pushed the ball central to open up the attack.
The move set up their first goal seven minutes into the first quarter through Tom Boon. A quick penalty corner set up the second. The shot from Alexander Hendrickx was blocked but the England defence failed to take the ball away and it landed straight to Gougnard, who put it in to double Belgium’s lead. Two penalty corners from Alexander Hendrickx and a goal each from Sebastien Dockier and Cedric Charlier, in the final two quarters sealed England’s exit.
The coach Shane McLeod dedicated the win to Gougnard’s father. “Simon’s father has been sick for a while, it was a sudden passing away. He spent a lot of special time with his father before coming here. He had already discussed if these circumstances were to take place, he and his father had made piece that he will stick with the team. This win is a tribute,” he said.
Felix added: “We were all sitting together. He told us the news. We knew his father was not well, but it was hard to him. Seeing him with pain, we felt it as well. We are very happy for him,” he said.
Belgium will face the Netherlands on Sunday as the latter beat defending champions Australia later on Saturday.