Once again Vincent Vanasch (35) showed why he was called ‘The Wall’, in the penalty shootout of the Hockey World Cup semi-final against the Netherlands. The Red Lions keeper’s stats in those playoffs are now phenomenal. But also far from being a coincidence.
‘The Wall’, ‘The Wall’. Vincent Vanasch is really proud of this nickname. The one who is already eleven years old, since dating back to the London 2012 Olympics, his first major tournament.
There, the native of Brussels was nicknamed as such by the other Red Lions as he kept a clean sheet during the group match against India with no less than fifteen saves, sometimes miraculous (3-0) .
So the Lions were not yet at the top of the world. They only became so a few years later, with a silver medal at the Rio Games as their first highlight. To then complete the golden trilogy: world champion in 2018, European champion in 2019 and Olympic champion in 2021.
Penalties in the final
The finals of these two world tournaments, against the Netherlands and Australia respectively, were played in shootouts (when an attacker from the 25-yard line charges at the goalkeeper alone).
The Red Lions won the title twice thanks to a sublime Vanasch: in the World Cup final against the Netherlands, he conceded only two of six shots on goal, in the Olympic final against Australia, he kept three of five shots on goal out of his net.
And in the semi-finals of the current World Cup in India, “The Wall” was again indestructible: three of the five Dutch shots on goal were saved. The last note had arrived. Once again, Vanasch was celebrated as the nation’s hero, as a gunfight specialist.
His stats are impressive. In addition to the three (semi-)final matches mentioned, Vanasch has been in goal eleven times since the Rio Games in 2016 in such a series of penalty shootouts at a tournament: from international championships, to the World League and the Pro League, to an invitational tournament in New Zealand.
Good for 52 shootouts, of which the opponents missed 30 against Vincent Vanasch, or no less than 58%. The highlight was the semi-final of the European Championship in 2017, when the Belgian goalkeeper stopped four out of four shots against Germany.
The secret of ‘Vince The Prince’? He once explained that Sports/football magazine: ‘I started as a striker. And that experience is now a huge advantage. I know how a striker thinks so I can assess situations correctly. Reading the eyes, the striker’s footwork, always expecting the unexpected, that’s all the art.
Insight he also cultivated by studying several hundred hours of opponent footage. This is especially useful during shootouts, in which it creates a mental advantage.
“I know what a player’s favorite move is, but he knows I know it, so maybe he’ll try something new.
“So it’s crucial: to stand patiently during a feint. The player has to shoot within eight seconds, so time is a stressor for him, not for me. That’s why I often take the initiative, alone fake to do, which makes the attacker even more hesitant.
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Another tip from Vanasch: intimidate the aggressor. ‘For example, shouting exuberantly after a rescue: ‘Yeah !‘ Or ‘Come one!‘ After all, I know some people really don’t like it.
“A mental game, isn’t it: you have to try to get inside their head with self-confidence and invincibility. Make the attackers think you’ll take it all. Then seeing the desperation in their eyes, how they almost eat their stick in frustration, is the best part. Kick!’
Or how a 58% shootout save percentage doesn’t come out of nowhere.
Van, as he posted on Instagram ahead of the World Cup, a man on a mission. Who will only be satisfied with a new world title.
“Introvert. Avid gamer. Wannabe beer advocate. Subtly charming zombie junkie. Social media trailblazer. Web scholar.”