With less than 50 days to go to the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup 2023 Bhubaneswar-Rourkela, fans are eager and excited to cherish their memory about many unknown facts, fun anecdotes and special moments of hockey stars around the world who have achieved the pinnacle at this prestigious event in the previous years.
Last World Cup and Tokyo Olympics 2020 Champion Victor Wegnez, who is a key part of current Belgium recalls his memory.
With veteran hockey star John-John Dohmen getting injured just at the start of the Odisha Hockey Men's World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018, the 22-year-old Victor Wegnez had to step up among the ranks for the Belgium national team. With a consistent display throughout the tournament, Wegnez played a key role as he helped his side lift their maiden World Cup trophy.
Belgium beat the Netherlands 3-2 after a memorable shoot-out at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar. Wegnez recalled the moment and his experiences of playing the final in front of a jam-packed Indian crowd.
“Playing the final in India with a full stadium was really amazing. We are not used to playing in such a big stadium with such a big crowd. The good thing was that the crowd was neither for the Netherlands nor for Belgium. It was a neutral one. We did not have the crowd against us, which was good for communication. When we play India in India, it can be really noisy and it can be difficult to communicate,” the 26-year-old recalled.
“At the shoot-out, Arthur de Sloover had struck the ball onto his leg while taking his shot. The umpire did not see the infringement and we started celebrating our win before we realised that the Dutch have asked for a review. The Umpire saw the infringement in the video and we had to do it all over. When Vincent Vansach managed to make the Dutch player miss his final shot and we won, we all went crazy,” Wegnez added.
Belgium had an unbeaten run at the 2018 World Cup. Winning the first game 2-1 against Canada, the Red Lions drew 2-2 against India, and then defeated South Africa 5-1, and Pakistan 5-0 to make it to the quarter-finals. Belgium then defeated Germany 2-1 in the quarter-finals, before defeating England 6-0 to book a spot in the final, where they triumphed over the Dutch to win the coveted trophy.
On being asked about his favourite moment from the tournament, Wegnez recalled the school visit his team had made in Odisha where he was able to interact with the Indian fans.
“If I have to think about my favourite moment on the field, it was definitely when Belgium were crowned the World Champions. When the Netherlands missed the last shot in the shoot-out, we all started running towards Vincent, I just remember all of us celebrating because we finally made it,” he said.
"Off the field, my favourite moment was when we visited a school in India. Seeing all the people there was an incredible experience. That’s a moment I will remember forever. Indian people are all so passionate about hockey and they were really excited to see us. We felt the emotions straightaway. It was really nice to see,” he added.
‘Excited to return to Odisha’
Now, Wegnez will be a part of the Belgium squad that will be defending the trophy at the upcoming World Cup that will begin from January 13. Australia, Belgium, Netherlands, India, Argentina, Germany, New Zealand, England, France, Korea, Malaysia, Spain, South Africa, Japan, Chile, and Wales are the 16 teams, who will be competing in the tournament.
Speaking on the team’s preparation for the major event, Wegnez gave a brief glimpse of the team’s training sessions.
“Belgium is a really small country. So, it is pretty easy to meet with all the players. I sleep every day at home. We are traveling to Antwerp each day. We have gym sessions, hockey sessions, and agility sessions on Monday. On Tuesdays, we have dribble sessions in the morning and in the afternoon. On Wednesday, we have a single session of hockey training and we do a workshop where we discuss our strategies. On Thursdays, we have double sessions, one hockey session in the morning and a gym session in the afternoon. On Friday, we are back with our clubs,” Wegnez said.
Over the past four years, Wegnez has also grown into an important member of the team, having played 129 games for his team. He also played a key role in the team’s Gold-medal winning efforts at the Tokyo Olympics 2020. Returning to Odisha, Wegnez admitted that he would have a larger role to play this time around.
“I am older now, I am 26. It’s been a while since I have been with the team now. I am more of a leader now than I used to be before. So, at the upcoming mega event in Odisha, I will share that role and responsibility. I hope I can play better than I did five years ago,” he signed off.