The shot-stopper came up with quality saves in the shootout to hand the world champions another win in the FIH Pro League.
In what was a high-scoring match in the FIH Pro League, it was Belgium’s goalkeeper Loic van Doren who proved to be the difference as he pulled out three exceptional saves in the shootout to lead his side to victory over the Netherlands on Wednesday.
With the match tied at 4-4 after regulation time, the 24-year-old stepped up to the task, denying Mirco Pruijser, Jeroen Hertzberger and Seve van Ass in the one-on-ones shootout as Belgium went on to claim the bonus point and strengthen their hold on top of the points table.
The results see the reigning world champions accumulate 26 points from their 11 FIH Pro League matches, while the Dutch stay second with 18 points from their nine games.
In what was a repeat of the 2018 FIH World Cup final, hosts Belgium and the Netherlands came out all guns blazing at the Royal Uccle Sports Complex.
With end to end action keeping the teams busy, chances were created in plenty. Felix Denayer and Tanguy Cosyns were the first to threaten the Dutch with some deft hockey that put the former through on goal. But smart anticipation from the Netherlands defence helped them thwart the attack.
While the Netherlands worked on counter-attacks to look for openings, the Belgians went ahead from a penalty corner.
Rushing in for the first flick of the match, Alexander Hendrickx slammed in a low drag flick after disguising the Netherlands shot-stopper Maurits Visser with his movement.
The Dutch responded immediately with Hertzberger tapping in from close range after Jelle Galema set him up with a backhand chop across the goal.
The Maximiliano Caldas-coached side then went on to double their advantage with Thierry Brinkman showing great composure to react quickly and score after goalkeeper Van Doren denied him from the short corner.
Belgium had their opportunity to draw parity close to the half-time. But Visser was in no mood to let their advantage slip as he raced out to close the angle and deny Victor Wegnez a clear shot at the goal.
Post the break, the Belgians were quick to find their footing and in no time drew level through Maxime Plennevaux.
Handed a short corner, though Visser did well to block the initial attempt, Arthur Van Doren’s reserve hit rattled the Dutch goalkeeper’s pad before popping up for Plennevaux to tap it in.
But this time too, the Netherlands roared back soon after with Jip Janssen powering past the Belgian citadel with his drag flick to hand his side the lead.
The match was barely done as Belgium went on to score two quick goals in the fourth quarter to regain the lead.
While Florent Van Aubel created space inside the striking circle to sound the board, Hendrickx showed why he’s one of the best drag flickers in the business as a powerful drive saw the hosts go ahead with less than 10 minutes to go for the final hooter.
Their lead, however, was short-lived with the Netherlands’ captain Billy Bakker running through the Belgian defence to score the equaliser and push the match into a shootout.
Meanwhile, in the women’s competition, there was no such drama as the Netherlands registered a 4-0 win over Belgium.
The win helped the Netherlands to a sixth win of the campaign, helping them cement their top spot with 23 points after eight games while Belgium continues to stay in the sixth place with just a win so far.
With no Olympics to look forward to next year, Belgian head coach Niels Thijssen continued with his plans to build a team for the future and named a relatively young side for their match against the reigning World, European and the FIH Pro League champions.
The Belgian side, however, didn’t wilt under pressure and held their shape to frustrate the Netherlands for the entirety of the opening half.
While Maria Verschoor tested Elodie Picard in the Belgian goal with a reserve hit after cutting in from the baseline, Caia van Maasakker had her penalty corner parried away to safety without much fuss.
The Netherlands continued to enjoy the lion’s share of possession with Xan de Waard and Lidewij Welten, along with Verschoor dictating the play. But Belgium was up to the task as they stayed calm under pressure to see off any threat to their goal.
The Belgian resilience was eventually broken just minutes before the half-time hooter as Welten was quick to pounce on a loose ball following a short corner routine to bury it past an unsighted Belgian goalkeeper in the 27th minute
That goal opened the floodgates for the Dutch as they came back roaring post the break to slot in three more goals to put the match beyond Belgium’s reach.
While Frederique Matla and Lauren Stam slammed in their penalty corner in a fine manner in the 31st and the 36th minutes, Margot van Geffen produced a quality run from the right before slapping home the fourth for the Netherlands just seconds later.