Hockey World Cup: Germany ride on 'pure belief' to claim Belgium's throne

Germany's players pose with the trophy after winning the FIH men's Hockey World Cup 2023 final match against Belgium. Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP via Getty images

When a team makes a comeback from 0-2 down not once, not twice, but three times in a World Cup, then there's only one word for them. Champions.

That's exactly what the German men's hockey team are. Champions of the 2023 FIH Men's Hockey World Cup. And the route they took to get there was simply incredible.

In a similar vein to their quarterfinal against England and semifinal against Australia, Germany found themselves down by two goals in the first quarter itself. Florent Van Aubel and Tanguy Cosyns put Belgium ahead within the first 10 minutes. The problem for Belgium, though, was that Germany had enough time to find their goals. They had done it inside the last two minutes against England. Fifty odd minutes? A luxury.

But, this was Belgium. Reigning Olympic champions. Defending World champions. One of the best teams ever to play the game of hockey.

So, Germany found themselves down by two goals against this team and missed a penalty stroke in the second quarter, Tom Grambusch's shot brilliantly saved by Vincent Vanasch. To come out and beat this bunch of serial winners would need something special. Something beyond being mentality monsters. Or maybe all they needed was pure, unadulterated belief.

This German team? Full of believers.

Nicklas Wellen was named player of the tournament, scoring seven goals in six matches. However, he was more than a goal-scorer for his team throughout. In the final, it was exhausting to just see how much Wellen ran on the pitch, never mind actually doing it. Non-stop, be it with the ball or without. His first goal for Germany didn't involve much running, but it was all about the finish and the art of being at the right position: close to the post. His control of the ball, taking two or three touches in the air, before putting the ball in, deserves a repeat watch.

During the half-time break, Germany's head coach, Andre Henning told the broadcasters that the match was turning. He knew Germany were getting back into the match. Belief, anyone?

They found their second goal through Gonzalo Peillat - another important cog in this German team. Peillat, who won the Olympic gold medal for Argentina in 2016, smashed in a penalty corner in the third quarter to make it 2-2. He had scored a hat trick in the semifinal to push Germany into the final and there was no way he was not going to have an impact on the result in this match.

The third goal was scored by their captain and all-around inspirational human, Mats Grambusch. An impossible goal from an impossible angle. Germany moved the ball quickly from the midfield, but it took two deflections on its way to go towards Grambusch on the right - who nailed his finish with a perfect reverse hit.

The comeback had been completed... Or not.

With two minutes to go, Tom Boon converted a penalty corner to send the match into a shootout. This was Belgium's golden generation - they wouldn't give up their throne without a fight.

For all of their comebacks, Germany now had to endure a shootout for the title. One last challenge before they could lift the trophy for the third time. Vincent Vanasch had previous as a goalkeeper - already winning the shootout for Belgium in the 2018. He repeated the feat in the semifinal against Netherlands at this World Cup. This was his zone. He knew what to do.

Germany were up for it, even after their captain missed his chance to win the World Cup in the shootout, thus prolonging the situation into sudden death. Wellen scored his second in the shootout, as did Thies Prinz, as did Van Aubel. The pressure was on Cosyns to keep his side alive in sudden death. Jean-Paul Danneberg, who came in specifically for the shootout, charged out - all belief, pushing Cosyns away from the goal. This was it, a couple of seconds later the buzzer went off as Cosyns missed his desperate attempt at a shot.

The comeback had been completed. This time for real. Germany had won their third World Cup title, their first since 2006, in incredible fashion. A few minutes later, Germany's coach Andre Henning moved away from the celebrating crowd. He took a moment or two near the goalpost to soak it all in. How exactly did his team do it? Thrice in three matches.

Belief. Just pure, unadulterated belief.