Forget a temperamental Pakistan, an inconsistent India or a fluctuating Malaysia. If there is one team that defies its ranking in world hockey today, it is Belgium. And its under-21 side here is a perfect example.

In the last two editions of the tournament in 2005 and 2009, Belgium finished 11th. This time, it came as the European champion and one of the favourites for the title. An emphatic 3-1 victory over defending champion Germany followed by a 5-0 routing of Egypt only strengthened the claim.

Philippe Goldberg, coach of the junior side and an assistant to Marc Lammers with the senior team, said: “the strength of my team is that it is a team.

“We do not have stars. I will struggle to name one player who is more special than the rest. We attack together, we defend together and we play together. That’s the simple secret of success,” he added.

Captain Matthew Cobbaert explained it further.

“We have included in our team rules that nobody’s parents or any relation will stay with the team during any competition. We live as a group, we do everything together in a tournament — there is no place for family. The team is our family when we play,” he said nonchalantly.

Lammers, here as a consultant with the team, pointed to the strong club culture back home. The Belgian league runs from September through May with weekend games, keeping the players match ready.

One common system

“All our teams, from under-14 to the senior squad, train and play with each other, so there is one common system from bottoms-up.

“It was a conscious decision by the federation to overhaul the entire system, the facilities and the talent scouting. Belgium is a small country so that helped a lot,” Goldberg said.

The system ensures there is continuity through the ranks.


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