With only 2 months left before the kick-off of the next World Cup, the Red Lions begin their 4th season of the world competition, in Argentina, with one and only objective: to work tirelessly and take care of the details. to win the gold medal in India next January.Article reserved for subscribers
As expected, the trip to Mendoza was grueling for the organizations. 30 hours to reach the Cuyo region, at the foot of the Andes, not far from the Chilean border. A real journey which will, fortunately, be profitable since the Belgian players will play 4 matches in 6 days thanks to the new formula of the Pro League which, for this 4th season, will be played in blocks, with 3 teams present for 1 week in a same city. A world tournament in deficit since its launch (some media mention cumulative losses of 3 million euros since 2019) and for which the FIH is still trying to find the ideal formula to convince the supporters but also the players and the federations. Finished therefore the closed league, the World Federation established a principle of rise and relegation,
Organizational concerns that hardly interest Michel van den Heuvel, the coach of the Red Lions who focuses only on the sporting aspects or the performance of his group. “I think that first meeting was pretty well planned in the calendar. It will allow us to play 4 high-level matches against two quality opponents. And the fact that the environment of these meetings is not the most obvious is also a good exercise for the group. However, I do not understand how Argentina is authorized to host these meetings in Mendoza when this city remains difficult to access. But hey, we have to accept it and even if the conditions are not ideal, we will have to manage it. »
The best tactical and mental balance
With a group of 22 players (in which there are still 2 young hopefuls, Arno Van Dessel and Maxime Van Oost), the Red Lions will continue, in Argentina, the substantive work started last September. Facing the host country (08 and 11/11) and Germany (06 and 09/11), also in pool B, in India, the Belgian players will really be able to test themselves against teams which should also play leading roles at the next World Cup (January 13 to 29). For weeks, the workload imposed has marked the organizations. An uncompromising involvement and an investment that enchants the national coach. “I’m obviously happy with the current level. Unlike last year and the post-Olympic season, I feel a concentration and total involvement. Attention, this does not mean that we did not train well during all this period. But the expectation of the next deadlines has made it possible to set the bar even higher. The Olympic gold medal in Tokyo obviously changed everything. This is an adventure and an experience that my players can rely on to build the future. I have a talented team that knows its needs better than anyone. »
This South American stage will also allow the staff (including Shane McLeod who joined the group in South America) to refine the last choices for his future selection even if Michel van den Heuvel does not wish to rush. “I will only make a final choice when I have all the useful information for me and for the staff. It’s a complex process and you have to keep everyone involved in case of injury. We must not forget that the program will continue after the World Cup with the Euro and then the Paris Games. We must continue to work preparing for the future. We must offer prospects to all core players. Of course, there are certain elements that are essential. But to field a competitive team, you must above all have the best tactical and mental balance. We will play another 12 matches before the start of the world tournament in Bhubaneswar. I need daily confirmations and there’s no point in rushing. »
The results achieved in Mendoza will therefore not be the main thing. The Red Lions have set specific goals as part of their development and they have prioritized certain aspects for the next few days. Because it is in India that they will have to reach their peak of form because they will be expected at the turn by their competitors who obviously do not intend to let them achieve the double at this next World Cup.