The FIH Men's hockey world cup 2023 ended with Germany lifting the trophy after a thrilling penalty shootout win over Belgium on Sunday. With 249 goals scored in the tournament, it was one to savour, with several exciting matches and upsets, including in the knockout stages.
As ever, a mandatory exercise at the end of a World Cup is to try and pick a team of the tournament. While there have been some standout individual performances like that of player of the tournament Niklas Wellen, some others have flown under the radar and yet have been crucial to their respective teams' performances in Odisha this year.
Here's ESPN's team of the FIH Men's Hockey World Cup 2023:
Note: This squad of 18 players is not listed as 11 starters and 7 substitutes, because hockey's rolling substitutions render starting XIs a bit pointless.
Goalkeepers - Ollie Payne and Jean-Paul Danneberg
For the first 238 minutes of England's World Cup campaign, England's Ollie Payne was faultless, he didn't concede a single goal. He even saw Germany's Christopher Ruhr miss a penalty stroke against him in the quarterfinal. In the last two minutes, it all went pear-shaped, as the Grambusch brothers - Mats and Tom - canceled out England's 2-0 lead, and then the shootout was decided by the man who makes our team of the tournament as the shootout 'keeper.
Jean-Paul Danneberg is 20 years old. Jean-Paul Danneberg is a world champion. He has become a world champion by outwitting those mighty Belgians in a shootout. It's not even a debate that he makes it into our team of the tournament despite not playing a single minute of regulation hockey in the tournament. Germany brought him to Odisha for a reason, and the penalty shootout expert repaid that faith by helping them become world champions.
Defenders - Jeremy Hayward, Jip Janssen, Gonzalo Peillat, David Ames, and Arthur van Doren
The top two goalscorers of the tournament, the most clutch dragflicker in the tournament and the leaders of two of the meanest defences in the competition. If rotating between these five isn't a luxury, what is?
In a tournament that saw dragflickers struggle, Australia's Hayward didn't. Nine goals in the tournament, best dragflick conversion rate, top-scorer. The Netherlands's Janssen as a second dragflicker is a handy weapon to have, too. Besides, the Dutch only conceded four goals in six matches all tournament. Germany's Peillat, meanwhile, scored six goals in the tournament, four of them came in the semifinal and final.
A dream team needs a dream combination of dragflickers, and in Hayward, Janssen and Peillat, this team has exactly that.
England's captain Ames led his team (and defence) admirably throughout the tournament. His poise and ability to marshall the last line in a young team helped him stand out as one of the best defenders in the tournament, and also one of its best leaders.
Speaking of leaders, there are few better at it than van Doren even though he isn't the captain of his Belgian side. van Doren has everything a defender needs to have - awareness in the circle, superb tackling ability, positioning. And then we can talk about his incisive passing through the lines from the back, which is one of the Belgians' primary weapons.
Midfielders - Mats Grambusch, Zach Wallace, Victor Wegnez, John-John Domhen, and Sean Findlay
Rainbow armband-wearing, hard-running, technically-brilliant World Cup-winning captain Mats Grambusch also leads our Team of the Tournament. Grambusch's spirit as captain certainly rubbed off on the rest of his team as well, and like them, he too played his best hockey in adversity, as shown by goals in the quarterfinal and final, both games in which he scored after the 50th minute, while his team were trailing.
Wallace and Dohmen play a similar position but they are a study in contrasts in how to play that position. Wallace is all-action - flashy stickwork, speed of mind and feet with the ball, everything associated with circle-to-circle goodness. Dohmen on the other hand sometimes reminds you of someone on a leisurely evening stroll. His ability to control hockey matches despite minimal running and ability to play passes without taking a touch to control the ball initially makes him very difficult to read for opponents.
Every team needs one world-class first rusher, and our dream team has that in Wegnez. He made 17 blocks in the tournament. Youngster Findlay makes our team of the tournament as one of the other all-action midfielders. His tournament was exemplified by the match he played against India in the crossover stage, where his running and close control left the hosts terrified on the night.
Forwards - Niklas Wellen, Tom Boon, Tom Craig, Thierry Brinkman, Koen Bijen and Nicholas Bandurak
Player of the tournament, immense work rate, always in the right positions to score goals: Niklas Wellen is an automatic pick in this team. And so is Tom Boon. While he was always a clever forward who took up excellent positions to go with his crafty finishing, this tournament saw Boon step up in the absence of Alexander Hendrickx, to become the Belgians' lead dragflicker during the knockout stages.
Craig and Bandurak both would've hoped for their performances to have gone up a notch during the knockout phases of the tournament, but their performances to get their respective teams as far as they did shouldn't be ignored.
The Dutch duo of Brinkman and Bijen were part of a side whose 32 goals in the tournament wasn't matched by anyone else. If Janssen's penalty corners gave opponents one kind of trouble, the trickery and speed of Brinkman and Bijen posed a completely different kind of challenge.
The six forwards in our team of the tournament all showed speed and nifty stickwork, all a pre-requisite in modern-day hockey, while also being calm enough to keep their heads in front of goal.
Coach - Andre Henning
German head coach Henning's passion and excitement was visible in the dugout during every game, but what's not tangible is the attitude and the spirit that he has built into this group of German players.
For a team to be 2-0 down in the quarterfinal, semifinal, and final, and yet become world champions is a monumental achievement. There was no fortune involved in Germany winning this World Cup. As Peillat said after their semifinal, this was a well-drilled team with each player's role clearly defined and a coach who trusted his players to deliver on the pitch with the tactics he'd given them.
Within his first year in the job, Andre Henning took Germany back where they feel they belong in world hockey. The very top.
A natural pick for the coach of this World Cup dream team.