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2018 World Cup News
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The finalists hope to turn silver to gold (12/16/2018)
--Errol D’Cruz
Neighbours last clashed for top honours in the World Cup 43 years ago. In an epic battle, India beat Pakistan 2-1 to win their first – and only – World Cup title in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Tonight, Belgium will take on the Netherlands in Bhubaneswar, another Asian city. This, the second all-European final in the World Cup’s 14th edition, like the sub-continental duel in 1975, has plenty at stake with more than a few scores to be settled.

The Netherlands beat Spain 3-2 in extra-time at home in Utrecht in 1998 in the last final involving Continental nations and it brought the Dutch their last of three World Cup titles

The Belgians finished runners-up at the 2016 Rio Olympics, losing 2-4 to the Argentines. It was yet another silver medal for the Red Lions whose meteoric rise to the top bracket of international hockey started with victory over then World Champions Germany in the 2007 European Championships in Manchester, England, that fetched them a bronze medal and a direct spot to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Silver medals followed in the European Championship in 2013 and 2017, the 2014-15 Hockey World League and the Rio Olympics.

Belgium also finished second-best, losing to India in the Junior World Cup final in Lucknow two years ago.

At the Kalinga Stadium on Saturday, the Belgians stormed past England 6-0 to set up a date with the Dutch who deprived them of a gold medal at the last Euro Championship in Amstelveen where the Red Lions had surrendered a 2-0 lead to go down 2-4 in the final.

The Netherlands will become the first ever nation to play 100 World Cup matches when they square up to Belgium on Sunday.

But the Dutch have their minds on erasing a dubious statistic – an 18-year major global title (Olympic /World Cup) since 2000 Sydney.

There, at the start of the millennium, the Netherlands beat South Korea on penalty strokes in a memorable final to clinch their second Olympic gold medal.

The three-time World champions then finished with the silver medal at Athens 2004, courtesy a 1-2 loss in the final to the Netherlands.

More silver. In a first ever final at the Olympics or World Cup between their neighbours and bitter rivals, the Dutch lost to Germany 1-2 at the 2012 London Olympics.

And in a traumatic final in front of their own fans, the Netherlands were routed 1-6 at The Hague four years ago. A second successive final defeat would be tough to bear.

Belgium have their own hurdle to cross. Silver medal was a much-celebrated achievement in Rio two years ago but another medal of the same colour will leave the team coached by Shane McLeod, a New Zealander, devastated.

SILVER STREAKS Netherlands Olympics: Amsterdam 1928, Helsinki 1952 ; Athens 2004; London 2012.
World Cup: Buenos Aires 1978, Sydney 1994, The Hague 2014.
European Championship: Brussels 1970, Hannover 1978, Paris 1991, Dubin, Dublin 1995, Padua (Italy), 1999, Leipzig (Germany), 2005, Monchengladbach 2011.

Belgium
Olympics: Rio 2016.
European Championship: Boom (Belgium), 2013, Amstelveen 2017.
Hockey World League (2014-15). Photos: s2h photographer Rakesh

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