Liberal Opinion: FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup 2023: Luck sided with Germany as new World Cup champions

Germans may not believe in numerology, but they cannot deny number 3 has proved lucky for them. When they took on defending champions Belgium in the final of the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup at nearly packed iconic Kalinga Stadium on Sunday (January 29), it was their third World Cup final on Indian soil.

The first two finals – Bombay 1982 against the then defending champions Pakistan and New Delhi 2010 against the then title holders Australia – had seen them content with the second position on both the occasions.

The third final against defending champions Belgium at Kalinga Stadium, however, proved lucky and the team ended on the podium with a gold medal finish.

Incidentally, it was the third World Cup title  for Germany. Earlier, it had won the World Cup crowns in 2002 and again in 2006. The last one was on its home turf of Monchengladbach.

Incidentally, the final against Belgium was the third consecutive match for Germany that showed gallant recovery skills as it recovered from 0-2 deficits each to win against England (quarter final), Australia (semifinal) and Belgium (final).

And the new champion owes its success partially to its migrant component. Gonzalo Pellatt, who was a member of the 2016 Olympic champion Argentina hockey team, played a stellar role in the 2023 Odisha World Cup. He notched up a hat trick of goals against Australia besides playing the chief architect in the decisive last second goal by player of the tournament Niklas Wellen.

The penalty shootout defeat in the final came as a big heartbreak for Belgium as it had been dominating the World Hockey scene for the last five years. Though it could not defend its World Cup title, only once it won at the same Kalinga Stadium in 2018, it remains the Olympic champion, FIH Pro League champion and the European Cup champion.

In the penultimate round, after Germany stunned pre-tournament favorites Australia 4-3 with a goal in the dying seconds of the game, Belgium squandered two goal advantage for a 2-2 finish in the regulation period. However, in the penalty shootout, experience stood by its side. Belgium beat the Netherlands 3-2 for its second successive entry into the final.

Belgium had its share of bad luck as well. It lost its key penalty corner striker Alex Hendrickx, to a torn knee ligament injury before the medal round matches began. He was one of several players who got injured during the run of the tournament. They included the home team’s star performer in preliminary group matches, Hardik Singh. Hardik, a brilliant play maker, was injured minutes before the end of the crucial group match against England.

The Netherlands, neighbors and archrivals, were sitting pretty with a 2-1 lead against Belgium, thanks to brilliant penalty corner conversions by Jip Janssen. Incidentally, the Netherlands created a new World Cup record by scoring the maximum number of goals in a match. It rained goals against the debutants and South American Chile by recording 14-0 verdict to erase past the previous record that stood in the name of Australia in the 2010 New Delhi World Cup. Australia had defeated South Africa 12-0.

Sam Lane of New Zealand added a feather to his cap by scoring the 2500th goal of the World Cup. His goal against Malaysia could not prevent his team suffering an unexpected 2-3 defeat at hands of Malaysia.

The last two days of group matches saw a flurry of goals being scored. On the last day of the pool games, 38 goals were scored as Belgium defeated Japan 7-1, France drew with Argentina 5-5, Australia trounced South Africa 9-2 and Germany routed Korea 7-2.

A day earlier, India needing a big win to top its pool, defeated Wales 4-2 (it needed to win by a minimum margin of eight goals to replace England at the top of the table), England beat Spain 4-0, the Netherlands blanked Chile 14-0 and Malaysia beat New Zealand 3-2.

In all, in the 24 pool games, 130 goals were scored of which 43 came through penalty corners and seven through penalty strokes.

Again, in the penultimate round of classification games for ninth to 16th positions, 29 goals (excluding three goals scored in the penalty shootout in the match between Wales and France.

South Africa trounced Malaysia 6-3, India recorded a convincing 8-0 win over Asian Games champions Japan, Argentina defeated continental compatriots Chile 8-0 while Wales and France played a 2-2 draw in the regulation period.

In the final round of the classification games, India and Argentina were declared joint 9th. India defeated South Africa 5-2 and Argentina beat Wales 6-0. In a clash between two Asian teams, Malaysia overcame a stiff challenge from Japan to win 3-2 and France got the better of Chile at 4-2.

As for record, though India did not lose any match in regulation period (except for a penalty shootout loss to New Zealand in the crossovers), it finished ninth, its lowest ever position on home turf in the four editions it hosted. India played six games, won four, drew one and lost one in the penalty shootout. India beat Spain 2-0, drew with England 0-0, beat Wales 4-2, lost to New Zealand in penalty shootout 5-4 after 3-3 draw in the regulation period, beat Japan 8-0 and beat South Africa 5-2.

Interestingly, the losing quarter finalists – England, Spain, New Zealand and Korea – did not play any classification game. Their standing was decided by their FIH rankings.

The final standings : Germany 1, Belgium 2, the Netherlands 3, Australia 4, England 5, Spain 6, New Zealand 7, Korea 8, India and Argentina joint 9th, Wales and South Africa joint 11th, France and Malaysia joint 13th and Chile and Japan joint 15th.

Overall awards:

Fair Play : Belgium

Maximum Team Goals : the Netherlands

Beat Team Goal Celebration : Korea

Fans Choice Awards: Christopher Ruhr (Germany)

JSP Foundation Best Junior Player of the tournament: Mustaphaa Cassiem (South Africa)

Hero Top Scorer : Jeremy Hayward (Australia)

JSW Best Goalkeeper:  Vincent Vanaasch (Belgium)

Best Defender: Jeremy Hayward (Australia)

Best Midfielder: Victor Wegnez (Belgium)

Best Forward: Niklas Wellen (Germany)

Odisha Best Player: Niklas Wellen (Germany)