It's the big final of the 2023 FIH Men's Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar. Two champion teams will tussle for the title -- Belgium are aiming to cement the legacy of their golden generation while Germany are looking to reclaim some of their lost glory. Come Sunday, 29th January, only one of Germany or Belgium will be left standing, lifting the trophy after 44 games and 16 nations taking part.
Their World Cup journey so far
Belgium and Germany are yet to be defeated in the tournament. They played each other in the group stage with the match ending 2-2. It was a game high on quality, with Niklas Wellen and Tom Grambusch scoring for Germany while Cedric Charlier and Victor Wegnez netted for Belgium. Defending champions Belgium finished on top of Pool B thanks to a better goal difference than Germany, with both teams defeating South Korea and Japan.
Belgium faced New Zealand in the quarterfinal and aced the test with a 2-0 win. In the semifinals, they overcame a spirited Dutch side after going down twice in the match. The final score was 2-2 with Belgium winning the shootout 3-2.
Belgium's golden generation show no signs of stopping! The defending world and Olympic champions will face Germany in the #HockeyWorldCup2023 final! pic.twitter.com/p004z6e1Hp
- ESPN India (@ESPNIndia) January 27, 2023
Meanwhile, Germany had a slightly tougher route to the final than their opponents. They defeated France 5-1 in the crossover match and then faced an impressive England in the quarterfinal. They were down 0-2 with three minutes to go when Mats and Tom Grambusch scored to make it 2-2. They won the shootout 4-3 to make it to the semifinals.
Against Australia, Germany were once again down 0-2 but made it 2-2 in the second half. They conceded once more in the final quarter but found two more goals to win the match with six seconds left on the clock.
Belgium wins: 15
Germany wins: 13
They've also met three times at World Cups, with Belgium winning twice and Germany beating them once.
Who are the players to watch out for?
Belgium's world-class dragflicker Alexander Hendrickx was injured midway into the tournament, but Tom Boon has stepped up in his absence. Boon scored five goals in one match against Japan and his total tally at this World Cup is seven goals in five matches. Cedric Charlier has also been productive, scoring twice and assisting three times. Goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch - the player of the match in 2018's World Cup final - has been solid with his saves.
Above all however, Belgium have the excellent Arthun van Doren at the back. He's a defender who's a playmaker for his team, always finding the right passes into the circle and reading the game better than anybody on the pitch. The manner in which he controlled proceedings and turned the semifinal around against Netherlands showed why he's counted among the best players in the world.
Gonzalo Peillat may have scored a semifinal hat-trick, but Germany's last-gasp wins are not good for his heart ��#HockeyWorldCup2023 pic.twitter.com/Xsk3ydmj9b
- ESPN India (@ESPNIndia) January 27, 2023
For Germany, Gonzalo Peillat's penalty corner hat trick proved to be a game changer against Australia. Apart from being a brilliant dragflicker for his new national team, Peillat has also been very effective with his attacking play on the left flank. He has earned 10 penalty corners for his team - more than anybody at this World Cup.
Forward Nicklas Wellen has scored the most number of goals for Germany - six in six matches - including the last-second winner against Australia. Wellen's finishing has been top class while he's also earned the most circle entries at this World Cup - 28. Wellen combines quite well with Chirstopher Ruhr in Germany's frontline, with both forwards able to wreak havoc with their movement and stick play.
How do the teams play?
Belgium have a squad full of experienced players - Olympic gold winners in Tokyo as well as the 2018 World Cup. They have 12 players in the squad with over 200 appearances at the international level. It's fair to say they have quality all over the pitch.
Unlike 2018, they don't depend solely on penalty corners to score. When Hendrickx had to sit out due to a knee injury, the team hardly suffered on the pitch. They don't necessarily play all out attacking hockey right from the pushback, but they can easily shift gears when it's needed. A fact that was seen against the Dutch in the semifinal.
It's usually van Doren who dictates play and provides penetrative passes from the centre of the pitch. But even if he's stopped from doing so, Belgium can produce incisive plays from the flanks or even with aerial passes. They can hurt their opponents in more ways than one.
Germany's attacking game has been one of their highlights at this World Cup. They have more circle entries (136) than any other team, their shots on goal (71) are just one behind the Netherlands, they've scored the third-highest number of goals (23) after Netherlands and Australia, and they are also joint first when it comes to earning penalty corners (28).
Captain Mats Grambusch pushes the team forward with his runs from the midfield while Wellen and Ruhr make things happen inside the circle. All three can create as well as finish. Youngster Thies Prinz has also been a livewire in the attacking zone.
The team was staring at defeats in the quarterfinals and semifinals, but they came back from dead, twice, to make it to the final. Clearly, this is a team that doesn't know how or when to give up.
Their World Cup history
Belgium won their first World Cup title in 2018 at the same venue. In the last five years, Belgium have won every major title, including the European Championship (2019), Tokyo Olympics (2021) and FIH Hockey Pro League (2020-21).
Germany won back-to-back World Cups in 2002 and 2006. It was a golden period in German hockey as they were also Olympic gold medallists in 2008 and 2012. However, the team had a dip post 2012. At the last two World Cups, Germany finished sixth (2014) and fifth (2018).
How either team can win the final
Germany can't leave it late again to pull off a win. The chances of it happening for a third consecutive time are minimal. Ball possession and scoring goals are important for Andre Henning's team. To beat one of the best teams of this generation will require them to take Belgium out of the match at the earliest. They should aim to go into the final quarter with a healthy lead.
Considering Germany's approach, Belgium will have to be rock solid in defence, which they are quite brilliant at, especially in important matches. Like all good teams, Belgium don't need many chances to score. If given many chances, they'll punish their opponents. The experience factor can play its part for Belgium, especially if it goes into a shootout. They've done it before with the same goalkeeper, they can do it again.
Belgium face Germany on Sunday, 29th January, 2023 at 7:00PM, with live broadcast on the Star Sports Network and live streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.