In August 2017, the Netherlands faced Belgium in the Euro Hockey Nations Championship final. After an intense 60 minutes that saw a few heated exchanges on the field, the Dutch won the match 4-2. A year and three months on, the two teams find themselves once again on opposite ends– albeit this time, in a World Cup final.
To say the Red Lions and Oranje enjoy a healthy rivalry would be a correct assessment. A few year ago, when Belgian hockey was struggling, they borrow a few tricks from the Dutch hockey to change their fortunes. “But you know how Holland play, there’s a lot of zonal stuff going on there. So it’s really a nice compliment to our team,” Belgium coach Shane McLeod said. “So we have to be innovative and keep going one step ahead of others. Hopefully, they will continue to try to catch up rather than passing us.”
The two countries also have a well-developed league hockey tournament in their countries — one of the primary reasons which turned them into a competitive unit. In the world of European hockey, Netherlands and Belgium are viewed as “brothers”, with the latter known as the younger sibling.
Now, with the two teams set to square off for the World Cup title, the Dutch coach Max Caldas promises it will be a spectacle. “Tomorrow’s final will be a spectacle. These are two teams who like to attack. We play a relatively single style of game. Both have good corners and keepers. We love the rivalry and we love playing against them. They attack, we attack. It’s a hockey game and we are gonna enjoy it and so will you guys,” he said.
Of course, it will be for the first time Belgium is in the final of a World Cup. After Olympic and Euro silver medals, the side will be eager to give their “golden generation” the gold that has eluded them for so long. For the Netherlands, it will be their second consecutive final, but Caldas is certain that losing the previous final will not play in his mind.
“The history does not matter — in terms of statistics, the Belgium team has more experience. They have so many players who have been in the squad for so long. But we knew we have experience of a final, so it could be pretty even,” he said.
In terms of head-to-head results, the numbers make it difficult to decide a clear winner. The two teams have met 13 times before in which the team in orange have a 6-5 record. But in the World Cup, the Dutch have won all the three times, a factor which might play in the minds of the team in red.
For the Belgians, dragflicker Alexander Hendrickx will be a key player. With seven goals from the set pieces. he is the leading goalscorer of the tournament. The FIH player of the year 2017 Arthur van Doren and Loick Luypaert, the two full-backs, who have become integral for every Belgian move forward will be the other two players the Netherlands will have to be wary about.
For the Netherlands, striker Jeroen Hertzberger and goalkeeper Blaak Pirmin will be the two stars who would be commanding attention from the Belgian camp.
The three-time World Champions Netherlands last won the title 20 years ago. Belgium has never tasted gold. But Hertzberger does not view them as weaker opponents going into the final. “Belgium have been Olympic finalist and European finalists. Now they are World Cup finalists. So we know they are a good team but so are we,” he said.
But will beating Belgium be extra special – because of the rivalry?
“It does not matter who we beat. We beat any team, we win the World Cup, so it will be special moment,” he said.