Preview: England, Belgium, Australia and Netherlands set for semi-final showdowns at Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018

Bhubaneswar, India: Sixteen nations started the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018, but only four teams remain. After 16 days and 32 matches featuring the finest men’s hockey teams and players on the planet, we now know that the iconic World Cup trophy will be raised aloft by either England, Belgium, Australia or Netherlands on Sunday 16 December.

Ahead of Saturday’s semi-finals, we take a look at the journey that each team has made to get to this stage of the competition, as well as getting the thoughts from those within each camp.

Semi-final 1: England versus Belgium – 1600 IST (UTC +5.30)

England – FIH Hero World Ranking: 7

How they qualified: 3rd Place – Hero Hockey World League Semi-Final London

Notable honours: FIH Men’s World Cup silver medallists (1986), European gold medallists (2009), European silver medallists (1997), 7x European bronze medallists (1978, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2011, 2017), Hockey World League bronze medallists (2013), 3x Commonwealth Games bronze medallists (1998, 2014 & 2018)

Rank in previous WC editions: 1973 – 6th, 1975 – 6th, 1978 – 7th, 1982 – 8th, 1986 – 2nd, 1990 – 5th, 1994 – 6th, 1998 – 6th, 2002 – 7th, 2006 – 5th, 2010 – 4th  2014 – 4th.

Form in Bhubaneswar: Pool B – ENG 2-2 CHN, ENG 0-3 AUS, IRL 2-4 ENG. Crossover – ENG 2-0 NZL. QFL ARG 2-3 ENG.

Top scorer in Bhubaneswar: Liam Ansell, Will Calnan, Mark Gleghorne – 2 goals each

About the team: England’s growth in the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar has been clear for all to see. A 2-2 draw against 17th ranked China was a fairly ordinary start, although there were signs of improvement in their 3-0 defeat at the hands of Australia. Since then, their performances have been excellent, with the 4-2 victory over Ireland setting up a cross-over playoff against New Zealand, a match they deservedly won 2-0. Their greatest challenge came in the quarter-final when they faced Olympic champions Argentina, where they once again produced the goods as the evergreen Barry Middleton and the electric Liam Ansell inspired the team to a 3-2 triumph to reach the semi-finals for the third successive World Cup. Head coach Danny Kerry – the man who guided Great Britain’s women to Olympic gold at Rio 2016 – is getting the best out of a talented group of players who will be determined to not let this opportunity slip from their grasp.  

Player perspective – Phil Roper (co-captain): ‘It feels amazing to be in the semi-finals of the World Cup. We’ve enjoyed improving and seeing positive results as we have progressed through the tournament. Belgium is a very talented team, with some great players, but we are confident and have a lot of momentum behind us, and we want to keep that going and see where it leads us!’

Belgium – FIH Hero World Ranking: 3

How they qualified: 1st Place – Hockey World League Semi-Final Johannesburg.

Notable honours: Olympic silver medallists (2016), Olympic bronze medallists (1920), Hockey World League silver medallists (2015), European silver medallists (2013, 2017), European bronze medallists (2007), 5th place – Olympic Games (2012), 5th place – Rabobank Hockey World Cup (2014), 5th place – Hero Hockey Champions Trophy (2014).

Rank in previous WC editions: 1973 – 8th, 1978 – 14th, 1994 – 11th, 2002 – 14th, 2014 – 5th.

Form in Bhubaneswar: Pool C – BEL 2-1 CAN, IND 2-2 BEL, BEL 5-1 RSA. Crossover – BEL 5-0 PAK. QF – GER 1-2 BEL.

Top scorer in Bhubaneswar: Alexander Hendrickx – 5 goals

About the team: As the Olympic silver medallists from Rio 2016, it comes as little surprise that Belgium has reached the final four. However, it is easy to forget just how far this team has travelled in a very short space of time. This is the first World Cup semi-final in Belgium’s history, with their previous best performance being the 5th place achieved four years ago in The Hague. While Belgium has earned a reputation as a team with plenty of attacking flair in recent years, their displays here in Bhubaneswar have shown just how brilliant they are in defence. 2017 FIH Player of the Year Arthur Van Doren has been majestic in the Red Lions’ back-line, while 2017 FIH Goalkeeper of the Year Vincent Vanasch has also been at the top of his game. Both were exceptional in the semi-final victory over in-form Germany, a result which certainly turned some heads. Remarkably, the loss of vastly experienced duo John-John Dohmen and Emmanuel Stockbroekx seems to have had little impact, with replacement players Antoine Kina and Agustin Meurmans proving that the Red Lions have genuine strength in depth.

Player perspective – Thomas Briels (captain): “We are very happy to reach the semi-final after a great team performance against Germany, but we are not yet satisfied. We will need another big performance against England to reach the final. They are playing very well and they will be ready for the challenge.”

Semi-final 2: Australia versus Netherlands – 1830 IST (UTC +5.30)

Australia – FIH Hero World Ranking: 1

How they qualified: Continental champions of Oceania / 3rd Place – Hockey World League Semi-Final, Johannesburg

Notable honours: Olympic gold medallists (2004) 3x Olympic silver medallists (1968, 1976, 1992), 5x Olympic bronze medallists (1964, 1996, 2000, 2008, 2012), 3x FIH Men’s World Cup winners (1986, 2010, 2014), Hockey World League champions (2015, 2017), 15x Champions Trophy winners (1983, 1984, 1985, 1989, 1990, 1993, 1999, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2016, 2018), 6x Commonwealth Games gold medallists (1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014, 2018), 10x Oceania Cup champions (1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017).

Rank in previous WC editions: 1971 – 8th, 1975 – 5th, 1978 – 3rd, 1982 – 3rd, 1986 – 1st, 1990 – 3rd, 1994 – 3rd, 1998 – 4th, 2002 – 2nd, 2006 – 2nd, 2010 – 1st, 2014 – 1st.

Form in Bhubaneswar: Pool B – AUS 2-1 IRL, ENG 0-3 AUS, AUS 11-0 CHN. QF – AUS 3-0 FRA

Top scorer in Bhubaneswar: Blake Govers – 6 goals

About the team: As the top-ranked team in the world and the double defending champions, Australia is certainly not playing like a team that is feeling the pressure. Much of this comes from the calm, reassuring figure that is head coach Colin Batch, a man who as a player won the 1986 World Cup and is unquestionably one of the most well-respected people in the game. Australia’s record in Bhubaneswar is intimidatingly good, having scored nineteen goals and conceded just once in their four victories so far. While the Netherlands are certain to provide the Kookaburras with the biggest test yet, the Oceania champions will feel confident about their chances of reaching their fifth successive World Cup final. Jake Whetton is proving himself to be a key player here in Bhubaneswar, enjoying his new role as an attacking midfielder whilst still contributing regularly to the score-sheet, while forward Blake Govers is earning a reputation as one of the best drag-flickers in the game. They will take some stopping.  

Coach comment – Colin Batch: “We knew it was going to be a tough game no matter who we were playing, but the Netherlands are in very good form and they performed well last night to beat India. It is really about winning this match. We will try to block out that it is a World Cup semi-final, it’s just a match against the Netherlands. We know them well, they toured Australia earlier this year and played them in the Champions Trophy. They are a very good side and it will be a close fought match, it will be right down to the line and hopefully, we can come and win it. They have only had one ‘off game’ in this tournament, which was against Germany [in Pool D]. If you want to have an off game you want to do it in the pool phase, and they have been good enough to respond to that situation, so we are expecting a very tough match. They were one of the favourites leading into this tournament and it is proving to be.”

Netherlands – FIH Hero World Ranking: 4

How they qualified: Continental champions of Europe / 1st Place – Hero Hockey World League Semi-Final, London.

Notable honours: 2x Olympic gold medallists (1996, 2000), 3x FIH Men’s World Cup winners (1973, 1990, 1998), 8x FIH Champions Trophy winners (1981, 1982, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2006), Hockey World League winners (2012- 14 Edition), 5x European champions (1983, 1987, 2007, 2015, 2017).

Rank in previous WC editions: 1971 – 6th, 1973 – 1st, 1975 – 9th, 1978 – 2nd, 1982 – 4th, 1986 – 7th, 1990 – 1st, 1994 – 2nd, 1998 – 1st, 2002 – 3rd, 2006 – 7th, 2010 – 3rd, 2014 – 2nd.

Form in Bhubaneswar: Pool D – NED 7-0 MAS, GER 4-1 NED, NED 5-1 PAK. Crossover – NED 5-0 CAN. QF – IND 1-2 NED.

Top scorer in Bhubaneswar: Thierry Brinkman – 4 goals

About the team: The Netherlands made a huge statement about their World Cup title ambitions in their opening match here in Bhubaneswar, playing scintillating hockey to crush Malaysia 7-0. However, they were brought crashing back down to earth in their next match, with Germany powering to a 4-1 victory over the team coached by former Argentina international Max Caldas, the man who guided the Netherlands women to the World Cup title in 2014. That score-line gave a false impression about how close that match really was, with Germany scoring three goals in the final eight minutes of the contest. Since then, the Dutch have shown once again why they are always rated as potential winners of every competition they enter, comfortably overcoming the challenges of Pakistan and Canada before showing true grit in their 2-1 defeat of home favourites India in a boisterous Kalinga Stadium on Thursday. With the likes of seasoned stars like Robbert Kemperman, Billy Bakker, Valentin Verga, Mink van der Weerden and Jeroen Hertzberger being joined by exciting talents such as Thierry Brinkman and Thijs van Dam, the Netherlands will rightly feel that they have a wonderful chance to add to claim their first World Cup title since Utrecht 1998. 

Coach comment – Max Caldas: “We are very happy that we’ve reached the semi-finals. We worked hard to get to this point. Tomorrow brings a new challenge. After playing the home-team in a fantastic atmosphere, we’re now preparing to play the reigning champions and number one in the world rankings. We are looking forward to that.”

 The Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018 takes place between 28 November and 16 December. The Men’s World Cup is played every four years. For all information regarding the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018, including the full schedule, teams, news and more, click here.

 Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018 – Upcoming fixtures

Saturday 15 December 2018

Semi-final 1: England v Belgium – 1600 IST (UTC +5.30)

Semi-final 2: Australia v Netherlands – 1830 IST (UTC +5.30)

Sunday 16 December 2018

Bronze medal match – 1630 IST (UTC +5.30)

Gold medal match – 1900 IST (UTC +5.30)

If at the end of regulation time the result is a draw, in order to establish an outright winner of a classification match for the purpose of the competition, a shoot-out will be played to establish the winner.

More information about the tournament format can be found by clicking here.

Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018 – Classification Positions

1:

2:

3:

4:

5: Germany

6: India

7: Argentina

8: France

9: New Zealand

10: China

11: Canada

12: Pakistan

13: Spain

14: Ireland

15: Malaysia

16: South Africa

Information regarding the classification ranking process can be found in Appendix 2, Article 4 of the Tournament Regulations which are available by clicking here

Source: FIH.CH

Photograph: Belgium celebrates! (FIH / Getty Images (c))