Experienced players will hold key to Belgium defending title: Coach Heuvel

Bhubaneswar, January 6 (PTI) Defending champions Belgium will bank on seasoned mid-fielders like John-John Dohmen to provide them with the winning momentum in their bid to retain the FIH Hockey World Cup in Odisha, starting January 13.

Head coach Michel van den Heuvel said players like Dohmen, with more than 400 international caps, will give the Olympic champions a huge advantage in their campaign.

The defending champions are clubbed with Germany, Japan and Korea in Pool B. They will take on Korea here on January 14.

“Well, all of them are very experienced and they know the game. They (players like Dohmen) have played here before and won the trophy. So, even though, we are under difficult circumstances this time, their presence will help the team. It’s so great to have them in our squad,” said Heuvel.

If the Red Lions, led by Felix Denayer, are able to defend the title here they will become only the fourth nation after Pakistan (1978, 1982), Germany (2002, 2006), and Australia (2010, 2014) to win two consecutive editions of the men’s hockey World Cup.

“We are really well prepared. We had been to a training camp in Spain where we won all our games. So, there is a lot of confidence in our camp that we will do well in the tournament,” said Denayer on Friday.

“But obviously, we know it’s always a really tough competition, so we are really, really excited to get started,” he added.

Listing the teams he believes will pose a challenge for Belgium, Denayer said Australia, Netherlands and Germany will be tough, while India will enjoy the home advantage.

“There are a lot of favourites, I think. Obviously, Australia then I think Netherlands, Germany, and India at home are always strong opponents. Then there are teams who are performing well such as England, and Argentina, so I think it will not be an easy competition for anyone,” said the captain.

Recalling the thrilling final between his team and the Dutch during the 2018 World Cup, the captain said the same intense drama could be witnessed this time around as well.

The 2018 final, decided by shoot-out, had witnessed a lot drama after Arthur de Sloover’s winning shot in the shoot-out was denied after a review, and the Belgium team had to stop their celebrations midway.

But Belgian goalkeeper Vincent Vansach managed to make Dutch player Jonas de Geus miss his final shot, and the celebrations re-started in the Belgium camp. The Red Lions won 3-2 after the match had ended in a goalless draw.

On whether similar scenes could be witnessed during this edition of the World Cup, Denayer said, “Yeah, I think the tournament will be a challenge, but we also have the experience so we feel confident and we are very hungry to retain the trophy. We are an ambitious group. And I think we need these kinds of challenges to perform at our best level.” Shane McLeod, who led Belgium to the World Cup and Tokyo Olympics 2020 trophy wins, is the assistant coach and the players will also draw from his experiences from the 2018 World Cup.

Source: PTI News


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