Belgium has had much to celebrate in the last few years.
Belgium has had much to celebrate in the last few years.
(Photo: )

'In the Spotlight' is a series that will profile each of the 24 participating teams at the London Olympic Games. It will provide a glimpse of what to expect as each squad begins its London quest. Between now and the Olympic opening ceremony a new team will be featured every 2-3 days. Today we feature the men's national team of Belgium.

The Basics:
The Belgian men are currently 11th in the FIH World Ranking. They were at every Olympics between 1920 and 1976 (only skipping the long trek to Los Angeles in 1932) and can boast a bronze medal won at home in Anvers in 1920. They then had a long 32-year hiatus before a stunning return onto the Olympic scene beating World Champion Germany to grab the last European berth for the 2008 Games.

They have only participated in four World Cups, with their best finish a modest 8th place back in 1973.

The Road to London:
Belgium qualified directly for the Olympic competition by reaching the semi-finals of the 2011 European Championship in Monchengladbach, after an epic win against Spain. Down 0-2 at half-time, they came back in the second period, overwhelmed the Spaniards and beat them 3-2, with Jerome Dekeyser’s decisive winning goal scored with only a few minutes left on the clock.

After qualifying, they went on to win the Champions Challenge in South Africa ahead of London-bound teams India, South Africa and Argentina. Their results in recent months have been consistent and impressive, beating Argentina three times in succession in April, then beating Spain and drawing with Germany at the recent 4-nation tournament in Düsseldorf.

Players to Watch:
Captain Maxime Luycx is the heart and soul of the Red Lions. With more than 300 international Caps, he has been part of every campaign for the last 12 years and is keen to transmit his experience to his younger teammates ahead of the trip to London. “At the Olympic Games in Beijing, we were discovering a brand new world. We were just happy to rub shoulders with Rafael Nadal or Laure Manaudou at breakfast. But we could have done much better on the field…”.

Other key players for Belgium are Jerome Dekeyser and Tom Boon, both skilful and prolific goal scorers. Unfortunately, both have been injured lately and the performance of their team in London could very well depend on their full recovery.

Coach:
Australian Colin Batch has coached the Red Lions since 2010, when he took over from Adam Commens. His work with the Belgian team was recognized with a nomination as coach of the 2011 FIH All-Star team.

A former international player, he played 175 times for the Kookaburras, winning the World Cup in 1986, adding two bronze medals in 1982 and 1990, and participating in two Olympic Games during that period. In 1980, he scored a hat-trick in less than eight minutes against The Netherlands! He was assistant-coach of the Australian team from 2001 to 2008, a successful era during which the Kookaburras accumulated two Olympic medals (including gold in 2004), two World Cup silver medals and two Commonwealth Games gold medals.

Strengths:
After missing the qualification for the 2004 Olympic Games in dramatic circumstances (they were still qualified with 17 seconds left in the last match), the Belgian Hockey Association took drastic action to professionalize the structure around their national teams and close the gap with the top hockey nations. They are fast improving and their young team is packed with talented, creative and ambitious players.

Weaknesses:
The Red Devils are very much relying on the experience of their veterans Maxime Luycx, Jerome Dekeyser and Tom Boon, and could struggle if Dekeyser and Boon are sidelined or diminished by injury.

Crystal Ball:
Captain Maxime Luycx boldly claims that Belgium aim for a top-six finish in London. This talented young team has the potential to climb high in the coming years, but their relative lack of experience in top competitions, especially defensively, and a tough group (with Germany, The Netherlands, Korea, New Zealand and India)  might limit their immediate ambition and a top-eight finish would be a good result for them.