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The fifteenth edition of the men’s FIH Hockey World Cup has come to an end. Watching as a fan, remotely from a television in Scotland, hosts India seemed to put on a good show. This festival of hockey, this sporting championship, provided plenty of entertainment. We saw comebacks from early deficits, skill, tactical battles and goals aplenty. It truly was a window in to the best of what the sport of hockey has to offer…

Germany, Mats Grambusch (C) Moritz Ludwig Copyright Worldsportpics/Frank Uijlenbroek

Grande Finale, Bronze Medal Match and Final Standings

Germany 3 (5) – (4) 3 Belgium

Gold Medal Match

Let’s start with the outcomes of the tournament. Germany won the Grande Finale in a penalty shootout five shuffles to four, after a tense match that saw the lead change hands, culminating in a three all draw. Belgium took an early lead, through two field goals in the first ten minutes from Florent Van Aubel and Tanguy Cosyns. The Germans had made a name for themselves in this tournament as the comeback kings. They found a late equaliser in their Quarter-Final against England, winning on penalties, before netting a last gasp winning against Australia in the Semi-Final matchup between the two sides. They carried on this storyline in the Gold Medal Match, scoring penalty corners in the second and third quarters, from Niklas Wellen and Argentine-born Gonzalo Peillat, setting up the final fifteen minutes with a two-two scoreline. 

BHUBANESWAR, INDIA FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup 2023 (Final) Germany wins after shoot out from Belgium. Photo by WorldSportPics/Frank Uijlenbroek

Germany took the lead for the first time two minutes after the break through their captain Mats Grambusch, who bagged their only field goal of the game. They probably had hoped that this would be enough, but Belgium forward Tom Boon scored a late equaliser for Belgium in the 58th minute, forcing a penalty shootout tiebreaker. This in itself was a tense affair. After four shuffles, the score was three-two to Germany. Belgium got one back through Kina Antoine taking the game to sudden death. Niklas Wellen and Florent Van Aubel both scored for their sides, but it was on the seventh round that we found a winner. Thies Prinz tucked his away, whilst Tanguy Cosyns (a goalscorer from earlier in the game) wasn’t able to convert. Belgium lost their crown, having held it since 2018. This was the first time that Germany has won this tournament since they hosted the World Cup themselves, in Mönchengladbach in 2006 and their third title in total. 

ROURKELA, INDIA Sebastien Dockier of Belgium. Photo by WorldSportPics.

Australia 1 – 3 Netherlands

Bronze Medal Match

In this Bronze Medal Match, the Netherlands secured their fourth World Cup medal in a row, having finished second in 2018 and 2014, as well as an additional third place position in 2010. It was the Australians, however, who took the lead. Jeremy Hayward opened the scoring from a penalty corner in the twelfth minute. The Aussies came into this tournament ranked number one in the world, however, losing a Semi-Final (only on penalties) and then this third place playoff has seen them drop down to fourth place. The Dutch staged their comeback in the third quarter. Their equaliser came in the 32nd minute through a Jip Janssen set piece. Thierry Brinkman then added a couple of field goals, before the break, securing their two goal lead. 

BHUBANESWAR, INDIA Netherlands at the Kalinga Hockey Stadium. Photo by WorldSportPics/Frank Uijlenbroek.

2023 FIH Men’s World Cup Rankings. Click on the image to listen to the Half Court Press Podcast.

Observations of Teams and Fandom

It is always interesting to watch a tournament of this standard. Elite level competition can provide insights into tactics and strategies that are useful for grassroots coaches like myself. How to set a team up is a question worth thinking about whenever you watch the top teams play. Also, observing the skills used and decisions made by the best players in the world can be fantastic to helping youth team players improve their own performances. I was particularly impressed with how Germany played and how they used their team press. I also remembered how important it is approach the shooting area at 45 degree angles, whist looking towards the back post, as well as driving towards and along the goal line, for a cut back, as an alternative. It seemed that a fair amount of the field goals were scored after the ball transitioned through these areas. The watching and analysing of these fantastic playing squads and athletes can help us to move the domestic game forward. 

BHUBANESWAR, INDIA Australia v Germany (SF) Jake Harvie Moritz Trompertz. Photo by WorldSportPics/Frank Uijlenbroek.

We still have moderately strong cultural playing styles within hockey. It is easy to compare our sport to football, which has become much more global in it’s cross pollination of ideas. Football players and coaches have moved around the world a lot more freely over the years, due to the large extent of that game’s professionalism. Hockey, in comparison, still broadly maintains its historical national identities that come across in playing styles. The Germans are quite organised, the Argentines are full of flair. The Indian hockey teams have broken the mould somewhat more recently. Traditionally, they produced individual players full of skill and attacking talent. However, they have opened themselves up to ideas and coaching from other cultures and philosophies, giving them now a much broader approach to the game. I think that they have blended their brilliance in one versus one situations, with a pass and move approach normally favoured by the Europeans. It’s very fun to watch. In fact, if I was to pay good money to watch a men’s game of hockey, it would be an even contest between the Indians and the Australians, with their assertive and high tempo ‘Gun ’n’ Run’ style of play. 

BHUBANESWAR-ROURKELA, INDIA Akashdeep Singh during the FIH Hockey Men’s World Cup match between Spain and India. Photo by WorldSportPics.

In terms of shutting out contests, during the match itself, teams still don’t seem able to control a game, dictate the tempo, or hold onto a lead very easily. This tournament has highlighted an issue in hockey, which has been around for a while. If a football team takes a two, or three goal lead, you can be fairly certain that a well drilled side will slow the game down, control the positioning of the ball and only speed up the play, if and when they want to. However, this isn’t the case in hockey. We can almost expect a comeback from a team only losing two nil at half time. Germany came back from such a position several times, including the Grande Finale itself. Argentina missed out on a medal, because they couldn’t hold not a lead against a lower ranked South Korean side and they do, in fact, seem to try and slow the game down in order to dictate tempo. It’s something to think about at least…

ROURKELA, INDIA-JANNUARY 28. FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup 2023 during the FIH Hockey Men’s World Cup match between South Africa and India at Birsa Munda International Hockey Stadium. Photo by WorldSportPics.

I do find the fan and spectator engagement with the World Cup interesting. Asking many of the players that I see around my club and elsewhere, there doesn’t seem to be many people within the sport watching this world class event. We could see this in the amount of bums on seats at the games. India, unsurprisingly, had the largest support during the tournament. Outside of when the hosts were playing their games, there wasn’t a large crowd in attendance. An Indian classification match, after they had missed out on the medal rounds, had a better atmosphere, it seemed, then either of the Semi-Finals. This is common at most of the events around the world. We had a similar issue at the 2018 Women’s World Cup in London. The only countries that have the potential to draw large crowds for the neutral games as well as their own fixtures, are Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and possibly Argentina. All of these countries have a strong club system and a thriving domestic scene. Hockey fans are prevalent within the sporting culture, in these locations. I’m lead to believe hockey is one of the most popular sports amongst women and girls in Argentina, with Las Leonas garnering passionate and vocal support within that part of the world. The engagement of fans and the promotion of a strong domestic culture is how we can promote the sport. If National Governing Bodies want to host a World Cup, continental championships, or even FIH Pro League and other test events then more can be done on this front. The federations and associations should be enticing club players to come along, through promotions and competitions. We should bus in school children and local youth team players for them to enjoy the spectacle (actually this is something that the Indians seemed to do well this time around). Those who weren’t watching, who didn’t take in a game, or cast an eye across a television screen, surely did miss out. There were some great hockey on show, with some entertaining matches played throughout the tournament. 

If you watched the World Cup yourself, get in touch with the Half Court Press via social media. Let us know what you thought. What did you enjoy, what was the good, the bad and the ugly? What stood out for you?

FIH Men’s World Rankings February 2023 After Men’s World Cup. Click on the image to listen to the Half Court Press Podcast.

FIH World Rankings January 2023, before the start of the World Cup tournament.

FIH Hockey World Cup Logo. Click on the image to listen to the Half Court Press Podcast.

Click on the image to listen to the Half Court Press Podcast.