Goals, goals, goals – this is what you usually get when you tune in to watch Belgium's men’s hockey team in recent years.
So far in the 2020/21 Men’s FIH Pro League, they’ve averaged over three goals a game. Alexander Hendrickx is the competition's top scorer with 10 goals this season – and he’s a defender.
But why should Belgium be on your radar for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021?
A blend of excitement, experience, and expectation means that they are definitely one of the big teams to watch in Japan later this year.
The goalscoring threat from all over the park supports an attacking line featuring the likes of Florent Van Aubel, Cedric Charlier, captain Thomas Briels, and Tanguy Cosyns. It is arguably the strongest attacking force in men’s hockey right now.
With the return of the 2020/21 Men’s FIH Pro League after a three-month hiatus over the New Year period, the league leaders are hoping it is just the beginning of a VERY big year.
The Red Lions, who are currently topping the FIH World Rankings, want to go one further than their runners-up position in 2019.
The team's training camp in the warm sunshine of Gran Canaria went very well, and they feel ready to take on the world.
In their first two games back after the break Belgium beat Spain twice, managing a 3-2 victory on Friday and a 2-0 today.
But Tokyo 2020 is their "ultimate goal" according to Adam Commens, the Australian Olympic bronze medallist who leads the team.
He recently told the Hockey Belgium website that the team would "have to manage the workload, finalise the selection and try to build our way of playing through the FIH Pro League and European Cup in June," with the Games in July 2021 as their target.
As we saw at the Rio 2016 Olympics, they can be clinical, scoring 29 goals in the last Games (including an uncompromising 12 against hosts Brazil in the group stage).
While younger talent is emerging in the Belgium squad, such as 20-year-old Thibeau Stockbroekx and William Ghislain, their strongest asset going into this year is definitely experience.
Ten of the current roster have represented their country over 200 times, with Sebastien Dockier reaching that landmark in the 3-2 win in Spain on 5th February, and the legendary John-John Dohmen making his 400th appearance for the national team in the same double-header. The 33-year old became only the sixth men's player to reach this incredible milestone.
The numbers are astronomical for a squad which, while certainly not the youngest, still has quite a few years in front of them.
What is crucial though is that it is not just experience that they possess – but experience of winning.
In the past three years, the Red Lions have become first-time world champions in 2018 and a year later, European champions.
They currently sit pretty atop both the world rankings and the ProLeague table.
If the stats suggest anything, they indicate the current crop of players are a golden generation of talent for the lowland nation.
Despite their prolific goalscoring threat, 1000s of international appearances and a taste for success, there is one thing that the Red Lions have so far found elusive – an Olympic gold medal.
They narrowly missed out at Rio 2016, losing to Argentina in a dramatic final in Brazil, but could start as favourites for the tournament in Tokyo.
With Dohmen and Briels both aged 33 at this Games, there is potentially no better time for Belgium to create history than now.
The current edition of the FIH Pro League commenced in January 2020, but due to COVID-19 was forced into a six-month pause between March and September of last year.
Since the competition’s return, Belgium have been in great form with four wins from five matches, including a bonus-point victory over lowland neighbours Netherlands in a fixture that was voted as the best match of 2020 by hockey supporters in an FIH poll.
The second edition of the FIH ProLeague is scheduled to be completed in May, allowing hockey fans the perfect build-up for Tokyo 2020 in July – all nine teams in the men’s competition have qualified for Tokyo, and only the United States in the women’s equivalent will not be in action this summer at the Olympic Games.
It promises to be a thrilling tournament in Japan, and Belgium will certainly hope it's a golden one for their men.
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