Well, it will be Belgium vs Germany for the World Cup glory.
Belgium's golden boys kept the team's hopes of a title defense alive by narrowly defeating the Netherlands 3-2 in a penalty shootout, securing a spot in the final match against Germany on Friday. The match, which took place at the Kalinga Stadium, was fiercely contested between Belgium, the more experienced team, and the young Dutch squad, but it was the experience at the end of it all that triumphed.聽
Belgium have 11 players above 30 years of age and three above 35 while world number three Netherlands have eight players below 25 and just two above 30. The Red Sticks, who have come with almost all the players who have won gold in Tokyo Olympics, are among the fittest and no doubt among the most experienced.
Germany beat Australia 3-2 in the first semifinals.聽Friday's last-four match was a repeat of the 2018 final when the Belgians beat the Netherlands in the penalty shootout (3-2) at the same venue after the two sides were goal-less in regulation time then.
Star striker Tom Boon (27th) and Nicolas de Kerpel (45th) scored for Belgium in the regulation time on Friday while penalty corner expert Jip Janssen (12th and 36th) struck a brace for the Netherlands. In the shootout, Victor Wegnez, Arthur de Sloover and Florent van Aubel scored for Belgium while Tanguy Cosyns missed.
For the Netherlands, Jonas de Geus and Jorrit Croon found the target in the shootout while Thijs van Dam, Terrance Pieters and Seve van Ass missed.
Belgium have won the European Championship in 2019, the 2020-21 FIH Pro League, the gold medal at Tokyo Olympics and a silver in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, besides the 2018 World Cup gold.
"It was a tough match indeed. The first half was not easy. The shootout was a lottery but we trusted in ourselves," Belgium captain Felix Denayer said after the match. "We will analyse Germany's game and plan accordingly for the final," he added.
In the first semifinal, star drag-flicker Gonzalo Peillat struck a second-half hat-trick as Germany made a sensational comeback after two goals down to beat Australia 4-3 and enter the final for the fifth time.
Peillat scored from penalty corners in the 43rd, 52nd and 59th minutes while player of the match Niklas Wellen (60th) struck with just a few seconds left in the match to stun the Australians who squandered a 2-0 halftime lead. Jeremy Hayward (12th), Nathan Ephraums (27th) and Blake Govers (58th) scored for Australia who will now play for the bronze medal on Sunday. This was two-time champions Germany's first final entry after the 2010 edition in New Delhi where they had finished runners-up.聽
They had won the silver medal in 1982 also before winning titles in 2002 and 2006. They also took revenge for their 1-3 loss to Australia in the Tokyo Olympics semifinals in 2021. For three-time champions Australia, this was their second consecutive failure to enter the final as they had done the same in the last edition here in 2018 when they lost to the Netherlands at the same time, though it was in the penalty shootout then.
They had won a bronze in 2018 after consecutive titles in 2010 and 2014. Australia were leading 2-0 till the 42nd minute and it looked like they would run away with the match but the three drag-flick goals from Peillat, who had played more than 100 matches for Argentina and won 2016 Olympics gold for the Las Leonas but is now a German citizen, changed the complexion of the game.
In the second semifinal, Jip Janssen gave the Dutch the lead in the 12th minute from the side's second penalty corner as he sent a low-drag flick past Belgium goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch. The Netherlands were doing most of the attack with Floris Wortelboer making a fine run into Belgium circle but his cross from the baseline could not find anybody to connect it.
The more experienced side of the two, Belgium struck back three minutes before half time with their star player Tom Boon scoring from the penalty corner as the scoreline read 1-1 at the breather. Younger and faster, the Dutch once again took the lead in the third quarter with Janssen completing his brace from a PC. Captain Felix Denayer had two hits at the Dutch goal in the 43rd minute in a wave of attacks but goalkeeper Pirmin Blaak blocked both.
It was end-to-end stuff for a while and Belgium equalised less than a minute left in the third quarter, with Nicolas de Kerpel firing a field goal.
In a dramatic fourth quarter, Boon wasted a penalty stroke in the 50th minute with Blaak bending down on his right to block the shot.
The final clash is scheduled to be played on January 29, Sunday.聽