Field hockey team wins first-ever world championship

Summary

Belgium’s Red Lions have won not just the sport’s first World Cup event but have become the first team to win a world championship for Belgium in 27 years

‘Meant to be’

For the first time ever, the Belgian men’s field hockey team have won the World Cup championship. But the Red Lions have written an even bigger page in the history books: It’s the first World Cup title won by Belgium in a team sport since 1991.

The deciding match with the Netherlands was played yesterday in Bhubaneswar, India, ending in a score of 3-2 in sudden death. With neither side managing to score against the other during the match, the Dutch pulled ahead first in the shootout, straining Belgium’s nerves with a 2-0 score.

The Red Lions managed to even the score, with a goal each from Florent Van Aubel and Victor Wegnez, combined with some beautiful saves from goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch. And then, just when it appeared that Arthur de Sloover had scored a winning goal – complete with the Red Lions springing into the air, pumping their fists and hugging in victory – a video umpire confirmed that the ball had hit De Sloover’s foot, disqualifying it.

But it gave the team the momentum they needed. Van Aubel again showed what he’s made of, scoring the winning goal in sudden death.

Ranked world number one

The win has also put Belgium into first place in the field hockey world rankings. It was a good end of the year for a team that has been progressing slowly to the top 10 of the rankings over the last decade and that was relegated to second place at the 2016 Olympic Games and the 2017 EuroHockey final.

News outlets around the globe were enthusiastic about the win, with the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup report saying that the team has capped “what has been a remarkable rise over the past 10 years” and calling it “one of the greatest moments in the history of Belgian team sport”.

The Times of India said that “when their time to rejoice came, God chose to tease them before gifting a success that they deservingly earned from hard work of over a decade”.

One of the greatest moments in the history of Belgian team sport

- Odisha World Cup report

The Red Lions are coached by Shane McLeod of New Zealand, who told Sporza that he had emphasised stories of perseverance in his pre-match talk to the team. Starting with a personal story about his own family, he then reminded them about the film Slumdog Millionaire, which is set in India.

“It’s the story of a young man who came from very humble beginnings,” said McLeod, “and got to the million-dollar question by answering questions that he should never have known, but because his life had taken him in that direction, he knew them. But the last question he didn’t know, and he just put his faith in it: If I’ve gotten this far, then it’s meant to be.”

Belgium defender Arthur Van Doren was named the World Cup best player, while defender Alexander Hendrickx tied with Australia’s Blake Govers as top scorer, with seven.

Photo: Daniel Techy/BELGA