Belgium eager to gain big-match experience

Belgium eager to gain big-match experience

When Belgium reached the final of the Olympics last year at Rio, it seemed like they would finally win that elusive major hockey medal. The gold would also have been an apt reward for the huge effort the federation and players had put in for close to a decade, ensuring a good following for the sport.

The best attacking team in the multi-discipline sporting extravaganza, where they pumped in 27 goals en route to the final, the Red Lions succumbed to stage fright as they lost 2-4 to surprise finalists Argentina. Coach Shane McLeod said while it was indeed disappointing not to triumph, it still is a silver-lining for Belgian hockey.

"It was disappointing for sure but it was also an achievement," said the New Zealander on a cool evening at the Kalinga Stadium,ahead of the Hockey World League Final here.

"It was the first time we have stood on the podium of a major event. Sometimes you have to lose a final to win a final. We learnt a lot from that experience. I think it's only a matter of time before Belgium wins a major event. Each time we train and we play, we just take more steps towards that goal."

McLeod felt experiences of playing such high pressure game would help Belgium break the major title duck. "Having played in a final, the players feel more comfortable in it. They feel more comfortable playing in front of a big crowd and we want to practice that. We want to play India here in India for two reasons. Firstly, they are a good side that's getting better. Secondly, the crowd. We want to experience a big crowd so that the guys feel more comfortable playing with so many people in such important games."

Ranked third in the world, the Belgians, who love to counter-attack and are very clinical with that craft, start the World League Final as one of the favourites. "This is the best line-up in a tournament I've seen. You really have the best eight teams here and eight teams that are playing pretty good hockey. The standards are going to be really high. I think, it's going to be spectacular tournament. You win this tournament, you have done a really good job.

"We want to get better as the tournament develops. The players have been in domestic competition back in Belgium, so we haven't had them long with us for preparation. Each game we want to get better and we are setting ourselves up for the quarterfinal. Ideally we want to play the final game of this tournament but to do that you have to win the quarterfinals and semifinals," said McLeod.

The HIL could also be the last tournament where McLeod can really test his side before the World Cup at the same venue next year and the coach realised the importance of it. "This is an important event because we want to go into 2018 knowing what our squad would be. This is the last time to try out a few players and experiment."

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