Vanasch plays sweet tune for Red Lions in Olympic gold rush

A heroic shoot-out performance from Vincent Vanasch saw Belgium’s Red Lions land their first ever men’s Olympic hockey gold medal, seeing off Australia after a tense final in Tokyo.

“It’s history again”, said Rot-Weiss Köln’s Vanasch. “It was history at the World Cup, at the European Championships and now it’s history at the Olympics. I will cherish that moment for a long time. This team is a dream team.”

Commenting on his performance and how he handles himself in shoot-out situations, Vanasch said: “It’s just that we train so much. I’m like a musician, it’s a rehearsal and then you come to the concert and it comes naturally.

“That’s how I come on the pitch. I’m composed, but also I trust myself, I trust my reflexes and you can learn that from experience and that’s why today I did something like this.”

Both Vanasch and Andrew Charter, his opposite number in the Australian goal, made some stunning saves in the game before the deadlock was finally broken early in the third quarter when Dragons’ Florent Van Aubel pounced from close range with a cunning, lifted finish.  

Australia pulled level thanks to Tom Wickham’s brilliant overhead tap-in, showing his predatory instincts to force the ball over the line after both Flynn Ogilvie and Aran Zalewski kept the ball alive in the Belgian circle. 

Both teams had chances late on, but in the end, it came down to a shoot-out to separate the two highest ranked teams in the world, giving the sensational Vanasch a chance to shine. The shot-stopper gave Belgium an early advantage when he saved Australia’s first attempt, slapping the ball away from the stick of Blake Govers before Van Aubel and Arthur de Sloover netted either side of Flynn Ogilvie to give Belgium a 2-1 lead. 

Australia’s Tim Brand scored to keep the pressure on the Belgians, who then missed their next attempt when the usually calm and collected Felix Denayer lost control, with Australia’s Andrew Charter making the save. 

However, when Vanasch denied the effort of Joshua Simmonds and competition top scorer Alexander Hendrickx slotted home a penalty stroke after Charter had fouled Victor Wegnez, the pressure was all on Australia’s midfield dynamo Jake Whetton. When the Australian player hit the post, Belgium’s players exploded in celebration, but an Australian video referral ruled that Vanasch had accidently fouled Whetton before his shot, resulting in a re-award. 

However, Vanasch took the moment in his stride, stepping out to save Whetton’s second attempt and spark scenes of utter jubilation from all members of the Belgian contingent, and leave level-headed coach Shane McLeod unable to control his emotions, crying tears of joy. 

Earlier in the dayIndia claimed an Olympic medal for the first time since winning gold at Moscow 1980, beating Germany 5-4 in one of the most dramatic bronze medal matches in Olympic history.

India fought back from 3-1 down to claim a sensational 5-4 victory over Die Honamas to seal their place on the podium this evening, with goals from Simranjeet Singh (2), Harmanpreet Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh and Hardik Singh denying Germany a medal at a fourth successive Olympic Games.