Hockey Champions Trophy 2018: Know your Team - Belgium
Despite having won a bronze medal in Antwerp Olympics 1920, and having been a regular part of field hockey at Olympics since Amsterdam 1928, Belgium was never a considerable force for either European or world hockey, until the year 2010.
It was the time when Belgium had failed to make it to the FIH Hockey World Cup for the 2nd successive time since the Monchengladbach edition of 2006. Matters had come to head, and in desperation, the top brass of Belgian hockey appointed Colin Batch as the coach of the 'Red Lions'.
Batch, a seasoned Australian veteran, with a World Cup and four consecutive FIH Champions Trophy editions in his kitty, was nicknamed the 'Golden Coach', courtesy his importance in breaking Australia's golden jinx at the Olympics, enabling them to win their only Olympic gold at Athens 2004. The rest, as they say, was history.
In 2011, the winds of change blew at the FIH Champions Challenge edition held at Johannesburg, South Africa. In a tournament, which was a wild card ticket to the 2012 edition of FIH Champions Trophy, the Belgian team under the leadership of coach Batch shocked the hot favorites from India by defeating them to win the top honors.
The Olympic glory
As if this was enough, the Belgian team surprised everyone with their brilliant sportsmanship, and though they missed the semifinals by a whisker, they stood a respectable 5th overall at London Olympics 2012. Batch later gave way to Kiwi coach Shane McLeod, but the onslaught never really stopped.
Followed by a surprise silver from FIH Hockey World League Finals 2015, Belgium were all set for their next target: Rio Olympics 2016. Topping the group with a solitary loss against New Zealand, Belgium once again shocked India by a 3-1 defeat, despite being down 0-1 for a full one half, the Red Lions shocked one and all, when they pummeled the Netherlands by 3-1 to enter their first ever Olympic finals.
Though they went down fighting to Argentina, their silver medal is still the best performance ever in any major world tournament related to field hockey.
Chances at the Champions Trophy
Despite the FIH Champions Trophy being almost as old as the FIH Hockey World Cup, it was only in 2012, when Belgium managed to make the cut to the coveted edition. They've never fared well, especially in the 2014 edition, when the ‘Red Lions’ finished last out of the 8 teams that had participated in the Bhubaneswar edition of the Champions Trophy. Even in the 2016 edition, the Belgian team just managed to avoid the wooden spoon, and finished 5th out of the 6 teams participating in the tournament.
As such, it would be interesting to see if Belgium manage to break this final barrier in their last ever chance at the FIH Champions Trophy. Though they have a formidable, almost invincible Australia in front of them, the Belgians would love to take inspiration from the Rio Olympics, where they had shocked Australia by 1-0 to progress into the quarterfinals. Who knows, if the Champions Trophy also springs up surprises like these?