Germany came back after conceding lead in three successive matches to win the coveted title
Hockey World Cup`s 15th edition ran from January 13 to 29 in the Indian state of Odhisa. Remarkably, Odhisa had also staged the previous World Cup in 2018. Last time, it was only the Kalinga stadium in the city of Bhubaneswar. This time the World Cup matches were also staged at the newly-built Birsa Munda stadium in Rourkela. This was the first time that two successive editions were held in the same country. Add to it the 2010 World Cup in Delhi and India has hosted three of the last four.
Some may say it is not good for the game but money matters; no other country could make a comparable bid. However, that was not the sole reason. The 2018 edition was a resounding success in terms of organisation and facilities.
Odhisa has given several hockey players to the Indian national team. The new Rourkela stadium is in the state`s Sundargarh district, which has produced around 50 male and female senior and junior internationals including Dilip Tirky, the President of Hockey India. No wonder, all the Rourkela matches had been sold out days before the commencement of the World Cup. At Kalinga too, stands were full throughout.
Europe had the biggest representation in the 16-team tournament with seven, followed by Asia (4), Oceania (2), America (2) and Africa (1). Chile and Wales made their first appearance.
Of the previous six winners, only Pakistan, the record four times winner, was absent.
The 16 teams were divided into four pools. After the pool matches, only the winners (Australia, Belgium, Netherlands, England) automatically made it to the quarter-finals and only the bottom-placed (South Africa, Japan, Chile, Wales) were eliminated. The 2nd and 3rd placed teams played in the crossovers against the 3rd and 2nd from other pools for the quarter-final spots. Higher-ranked Germany and Spain defeated France and Malaysia. Korea (ranked 10) sprang a little surprise when they beat Spain, ranked two places higher.
The most awaited crossover was India vs New Zealand. The hosts’ performance on the big stage had been showing continuous improvement. The bronze medal at the 2021 Olympics — India`s first medal at the Olympics/World Cup since 1980 — made the nation hopeful. India (ranked 5) had finished second in the pool only on goal difference. New Zealand (ranked 9) had only won against Chile (ranked last), and had even lost to Malaysia (ranked 11). It started as was expected. India led 2-0 and then 3-1. A great rearguard action saw New Zealand making it 3-3 and sending the match into a shootout which also went to the wire with New Zealand winning in sudden death.
The most dramatic of the quarter-finals was between Germany (no 4) and England (no 6). England led 2-0 with just three minutes left. The Grambusch brothers turned the tie upside down in an escape act of Hedonistic proportions. First, Mats Grambusch (Captain) and then younger Tom scored and it was 2-2. Germany won the shootout.
Thus, normal order was restored. In the semifinals, Germany was joined by Australia (no 1), Belgium (no 2) and Netherlands (no 3).
In the first semifinal, an exciting battle was witnessed between Australia and Germany. Again, Germans trailed 0-2; again leveled. Australia went ahead 3-2 with only two minutes remaining. Germany in another dramatic turnaround netted a goal each in the last two minutes to emerge victorious 4-3.
The semifinal between the neighbours Belgium and the Netherlands also kept fans on the edge of their seats. Belgium prevailed in the shootout. It was 2-2 after 60 minutes.
In the final, for the third game in a row, Germany fell 0-2 down. They say lightning doesn`t strike twice but it did; thrice would be asking too much, especially with Tom Grambusch missing a penalty stroke.
The comeback kings did not lose heart. Niklas Wellen, Germany’s untiring fighter the entire fortnight, reduced the margin in the 28th minute. It was 2-2 when Gonzalo Peillat, who with Argentina had defeated Belgium in the 2016 Olympics final, converted a penalty corner in the 40th minute. Within seven minutes, the Germans went ahead through captain Mats Grambusch, making amends for the brother`s failure from the spot. Trailing after leading 2-2 would have shattered most but not the Belgians. The defending champions, also the reigning Olympic Champions, equalised through Tom Boon`s PC goal in the second last minute taking Belgium to a third successive shootout in a major final.
It again ended 3-3 after five strikes each. The dauntless Germans won in the sudden death.
Wellen, the player of the final, rightly said, “If you come back from two goals down three times in a row, it is not luck; it’s our quality, it’s our mentality. And we showed that again today.”
Europe staged a podium sweep as the Netherlands defeated Australia 3-1 in the bronze medal game.
Best Junior Player: Mustaphaa Cassiem (South Africa)
Top Scorer: Jeremy Hayward (Australia) 9 Goals
Best Goalkeeper: Vincent Vanasch (Belgium)
Best Defender: Jeremy Hayward (Australia)
Best Midfielder: Victor Wegnez (Belgium)
Best Forward: Niklas Wellen (Germany)
Best Player: Niklas Wellen (Germany)
Fair Play Award: Belgium
Best Team Goal Celebration: Korea
Fan’s Choice Award: Christopher Rühr (Germany)
RECORDS & FEATS
* New record of Total goals: 249
* Biggest Win in World Cup: Holland beat Chile 14-0; previously Australia beat South Africa 12-0 (2010)
* Belgium`s Tom Boon equaled the record of most individual goals (5) in a match, against Japan.
* Several instances of brothers representing a country but for the first time in a World Cup siblings played for different teams: Leon Hayword for New Zealand and younger Jeremy for Australia. Their parents were in Odhisa to see their sons and both distinguished themselves. Jeremy ended the tournament as the top scorer and was also declared the best defender.
Leon was New Zealand`s goalkeeping hero in their sensational win over India. Called for the shootout; he delivered.
- Another first for the World Cup: players appearing for a country having earlier represented another team in an earlier edition. Gonzalo Peillat, who had represented Argentina in 2014 and 2018, was in the German colours. Joaquin Menini, Pelliat`s teammate in 2014 and 2018, appeared for Spain this time.
- Pelliat achieved other firsts, unlikely to be replicated:
Golds at the Olympics and World Cup for two different countries: 2016 Olympics (Argentina), 2023 World Cup (Germany)
Goals in both Olympics and World Cup Finals
World Cup medals for two different countries, Gold (Germany, 2023) & Bronze (Argentina, 2014).
FOOTNOTE: Pakistanis congratulated each other and also received messages from others: The country`s record of four World Cup wins remains intact.