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Belgium looking for the big medals in field hockey

December 8, 2014

BHUBANESWAR, India (AP) — The number five holds a special significance for the Belgian field hockey team, not as a lucky number but as a precursor to bigger achievements.

The most improved team in field hockey has finished fifth at the 2012 London Olympics and the Champions Trophy in Melbourne the same year, as well as at this year’s World Cup in the Netherlands.

It is now ready to break into the top tier by winning medals in world-level competitions.

“We were fifth at the Olympics and World Cup, but now want to take the next step,” Belgium’s Dutch coach Jeroen Delmee said late Sunday. “People expected us to be in the semifinals at the World Cup this year, which is new for us. Our next step is to finish in the top three of such tournaments.”

Belgium, ranked fourth behind world champion Australia, the Netherlands and Germany, has already shown glimpses of its potential by edging out former champion Pakistan 2-1 in its opening game and seizing a dramatic 4-4 draw against Australia with gaining last-minute penalty-corner.

“The draw against Australia was important because it showed our resilience,” captain John-John Dohmen said. “It’s not the first time we’ve won such a match because we also scored against India with just 15 seconds to go at the World Cup this year to win the league match 3-2.”

Belgium was a middle-rung team till some years ago but is now ahead of traditional Asian powers like India, Pakistan, South Korea and Malaysia.

Delmee, a two-time Olympic and four-time Champions Trophy gold medalist for the Netherlands, credits Belgium’s coaching system for the steady rise.

“It’s a 15-year program because such improvement does not happen in a short term,” he said. “We have elaborate programs for not just the national team but also intense youth programs. Players who came into the system 10 years ago are now in the national team.”

Australia coach Graham Reid agrees that everyone is wary of Belgium in only its second appearance at the Champions Trophy.

“Belgium is one team that has developed very well over the past four years,” Reid said. “It’s a dynamic side that is young but yet has a lot of experience and so you can’t take it lightly.”

Delmee feels the team is almost at par with top teams and has also caught the imagination of people back home.

“We’re now close to teams like Australia, Germany and the Netherlands. Hockey in Belgium is really blooming. It’s growing not just with the number of players but is also watched a lot on TV. Overall, everything is very positive and it’s up to us to keep performing well,” Delmee said.

Belgium will be tested in its last pool A match on Tuesday against fifth-ranked England, which has beaten Australia 3-1 and an off-color Pakistan 8-2.

The last round of league matches, which resume after a rest day on Monday, are another chance for teams to try out different combinations since all eight teams are assured of quarterfinal berths and rankings only decide the draws for the knockouts.

Australia, England, Belgium and Pakistan are grouped in pool A while the Netherlands, Germany, Argentina and India form pool B.

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