Bhubneswar: Belgium breezed into the semifinals of the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup 2023 with a 2-0 win against New Zealand in their quarterfinals here on Tuesday.
In the semifinals, Belgium will take on the winner of the quarterfinals match between Netherlands and Korea.
The news cycle before the game was dominated by the injury suffered by Alex Hendrickx leaving the Red Lions without their ace drag flicker for the rest of the World Cup.
Star forward Tom Boon allayed some of the worries by scoring the first penalty corner Belgium won by dissecting the gap between the keeper and the post defender perfectly.
It was a great start to the game for Belgium who played confidently from the first whistle calmly circulating the ball from side to side looking for openings in the experienced Kiwi defence.
New Zealand primarily looked to catch Belgium out with quick counter attacks, but the experienced Belgian midfield kept stopping any attempts they made at getting out on the break.
Belgium scored a second goal in the first minute of the second quarter as great work from the right by Boccard led to a cross that was finished off by Florent van Aubel, to increase the size of task ahead of New Zealand if they wanted to keep their World Cup campaign alive.
New Zealand tried their best to spark a comeback before the half time, as they had done just 48 hours ago against India, but Belgium’s defence was resolute.
The Black Sticks did manage to win a penalty corner in the final minute of the first half as great work by Sam Lane on the left baseline led to a Belgian foot in the circle.
The attempted drag flick by Russell though was well watched by Vanasch till the very end and he dived low to his right and made the save to keep Belgium’s clean sheet and two-goal lead intact at the break.
Belgium continued to stifle New Zealand, despite switching from a high press to a midfield press. John-John Dohmen was particularly impressive in the middle, swarming any Kiwi player who tried to carry the ball out from the back.
With their counter attacking abilities curbed, New Zealand tried to build from the back and did manage to create a couple of shooting opportunities in the Belgian circle, but Belgium always got back in numbers and the shots were blocked off before they could get to Vanasch in the goal.
Belgium ended the 3rd quarter with the best scoring opportunity as a high ball by Denayer found Charlier alone in the circle, but his attempt at foxing Hayward at the near post was thwarted by the alert Kiwi shot-stopper.
New Zealand had a great start to the final quarter as a deliberate kick by Arthur de Sloover inside their defensive 25m, earned them a penalty corner inside the first minute.
The Kiwis went with a variation as Russell pushed the ball towards Phillips on the right, who tried to deflect the ball into the goal, but his attempt went narrowly wide and Belgium survived.
The next big chance of the game also fell New Zealand’s way as a crashed pass into the circle by Ross was deflected by an onrushing Greentree, but the ball passed by the far post of the goal, missing it by a whisker.
New Zealand took their keeper off with 7 minutes left in the game to give them an advantage in the outfield, after failing to breach the Belgian defence throughout the game.
However, Belgium remained unaffected, calmly keeping New Zealand out of their circle for the most part of the final 7 minutes, to claim another impressive win and securing their spot in the semi-finals as they attempt to defend their World Cup title.
Felix Denayer was awarded player of the match and said: “We knew New Zealand would give us a tough match. We watched their game against India and they played really well to get the win in that game. So we are quite happy to have won this game and we have players who will step up in Hendrickx’ place, even though we can’t replace him like for like, we have guys who will step up in different ways to carry us forward.”