The German men’s team could have been forgiven for thinking they had consigned Belgium (WR:1) to a first FIH Pro League defeat. With seven minutes of the match to go, Germany (WR:6) were leading 4-2 and their defence was on fine form. But Belgium have enormous powers of self-belief and resilience and the resulting draw, which saw Germany win the shoot-out bonus point, was a fair reflection of a game between two magnificently competitive teams.
“We know how good Belgium are,” said German Head Coach Stefan Kermas ahead of the game. “We saw how they played against Great Britain. But we will find our own style and play our way. Not all our squad are available today [through injury] but this is about building a squad for not just today but for the challenges ahead.”
His team answered him in some style as they tamed the Red Lions’ star-studded attack force and showed their own immense fire power as they consigned Belgium to a third draw in the FIH Pro league.
As befits the world number one side, Belgium got off to a bright start, threatening the German circle from the first whistle. But it was Germany who made the first mark on the scoreboard in the eighth minute as Tom Grambusch fired home a penalty corner to give his side the lead.
In response Belgium set up their high press and for the remainder of the quarter Germany were forced to defend as Belgium threw everything into the attack. Mathias Muller stepped in with some crucial tackles and goalkeeper Victor Aly was called upon to make some point blank saves, but Germany withheld the storm.
Germany continued to build momentum in the second quarter and created some good chances but it was Belgium who scored next. The equaliser came from Tanguy Cosyns after a deft pass from captain Thomas Briels played him through for a one-on-one with Aly.
Belgium’s second goal was pure class. Tom Boon showed great 3D skills to make his way into the German circle and his pass found Gougnard who was able to pick his spot to put the ball past Aly.
A series of four penalty corners at the end of the half offered Germany a chance to equalise. Vanasch was up to the challenge and saved the first three but finally the wall was breached and Grambusch claimed his second goal to bring the teams equal going into the break.
The third quarter had a simmering quality to it. The teams probed away at each other but both defensive units were in top form. It needed a moment of magic to unlock the match and that was provided by Player of the Match Florian Fuchs who weaved his way through the Belgium defence before laying the ball off to Wellen, who made no mistake as he launched the ball into the roof of the net.
The next goal was a demonstration of fast, one touch passing. Marco Miltkau was on hand to slap the ball home after a series of quick movements to work the ball up the pitch.
From attack to defence, Germany were on form in the third quarter. Aly pulled off a great double save as first Nicolas de Kerpel and then John-John Dohmen attempted to get their team back into the game.
And so to the last 15 minutes of this intriguing and oh-so entertaining fixture. With seven minutes left Cosyns scored his second: he latched onto a cross and his touch guided the ball into the corner of Aly’s goal.
The script writers then added the perfect touch to the play that was unfolding before us. Alexander Hendrickx, playing in his 100th game for Belgium, scored a rasping penalty corner to bring the scores level with five minutes left to play.
A frenetic last minute saw both teams pushing for the win but a thrilling match finished 4-4, a fitting end to supreme efforts from two magnificently competitive teams.
The classy performances continued in the shoot-out. Belgium looked to be on their way to victory as Briels, Victor Wegnez and Cosyns scored but saves from Aly brought Germany back into the contest and Johannes Grosse was on hand to score the winning shoot-out goal.