Semi-final berths secured, Belgium and Australia not taking anything for granted

NewsDrum Desk
25 Jan 2023

Bhubaneswar, Jan 25 (PTI) The world's top two sides, Belgium and Australia, have achieved their primary goal of reaching the semi-finals of the FIH Men's World Cup, and having accomplished it the hard way, they are not taking anything for granted.

Last edition's bronze medallists and world No.1 Australia came back from two goals down to beat Spain 4-3, while defending champions and Olympic gold medallists Belgium fended off a spirited challenge from New Zealand in the second half to emerge 2-0 winners in their quarter-final matches here on Tuesday.

"It (World Cup) is a tough competition against tough teams, there are no easy games. It will become harder and harder but we are very pleased that we are in the semi-finals," Australia coach Colin Batch said.

"We were in a difficult position at the start. Spain played very well, defended well and made counter attacks. The goal just before half time gave us the momentum and we did very well in the second half, especially the third quarter," the coach added.

It was Australia's 12th straight semi-final entry in the World Cup since the 1978 edition, which shows their consistency in the showpiece event.

"We have to be at our best in a World Cup, there is no escape from that. It will only get tougher as you go ahead in the tournament," Australia captain Aran Zalewski added.

In the last edition in 2018, Australia lost to the Netherlands in the semi-finals in a penalty shootout and the Kookaburras are likely to be up against the Dutch again in the semi-finals on Friday.

Asked about this, Batch said, "A shootout is a shootout and we also have to prepare for that." Belgium captain Felix Denayer said anything can happen in the semi-finals and what his team can do is try and play their best game.

"We will try to grow in the tournament and analyse this game (against New Zealand) and all the details and see if there is room for improvement. That is the only thing we can do, we can only hope to play our best.

"Winning the title is what we dream of but we will first focus on the semi-finals. Back-to-back titles will be brilliant." Talking about the quarter-finals match against New Zealand, he said, "We missed chances but the only result we wanted was a win and we achieved that.

"We have to respect New Zealand because they played an amazing game against India in this atmosphere. It means they have a lot of quality and also they showed a lot of different traits against us. We are very happy with this result and now we look forward to the semi-finals and will prepare for that." Star forward Tom Boon contributed one goal and Denayer was not surprised with that.

"It is no surprise that Tom Boon is scoring goals and I have been playing with him for a long time. He can do amazing things inside the circle. But I am sure he is not here to become the top scorer but to win the title." Boon, on his part, said winning matches for the team was his main priority.

"I try to do my best for the team. We could have scored more goals. We made the right choices in the first half but did not do that in the second half.

"They (New Zealand) had more of the ball and put pressure on us. We bent a little but it was a good effort from our defence." Boon is currently joint second on the goal-scorers' chart with six strikes along with Victor Charlet of the already-eliminated France. Jeremy Hayward of Australia is on top with seven goals.

New Zealand captain Nic Woods was disappointed but said his team has learnt lessons from the World Cup.

"We learnt lessons from the game. We created a lot of chances but could not score any goals. We will be back to the drawing board." The New Zealand team has some amateur-level and semi-pro players, doing part-time jobs and playing the game in their spare time.

Asked about it, Woods said, "Money makes things move around. The circumstances forced us to study, do jobs and other commitments that make us stay away from hockey. We are unfortunate in that sense as compared to other countries which have professional setups with their training.

"If we have that one day, our hockey will go up sky high in professionalism, popularity and in skill-set. The more professional contracts we pick up abroad, that will be better for the team," said Woods.

"We have 8-9 players playing in Europe and the more the better. The experience we get playing with some of the best in the world will be great for the team." PTI PDS AM AM AM

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