It has been far from a near-perfect script for the current olympic and world champions Belgium in the 4th edition of the FIH Pro League. The Red Lions are known for maintaining a high level of consistency on the international stage, but their performances in the first four games of the 2022-23 FIH Pro League at Mendoza has been anything like that.
The Michel van den Heuvel-coached Belgium side kickstarted their campaign against Germany in a match, where they were left ‘chasing the game’ after Marco Miltkau, who plays club hockey for Dutch club Klein Zwitserland, scored an early goal and then again struck at the stroke of half-time. The Red Lions were not allowed to pull ahead by the Germans even though Alexander Hendrickx struck in each half to keep the European champions in the contest, but Tom Grambusch’s penalty stroke conversion in the closing stages of the match helped the Honamas nail out a 3-2 win – it’s not often Belgium loses full points in an international game and back-to-back defeats are a rarity. It may be worth recalling that Belgium had dominated Germany when both teams locked horns in the 2021-22 FIH Pro League – the red brigade then had got the better of Germany 6-1 and 5-3.
The world number two side had more disappointment in store when they made a hash of an early Cedric Charlier goal to go down to hosts Argentina 1-2 in their second game, where Lucas Villa and Nicolas Della Torre player the spoilers, scoring once in each half. The Red Lions have always found the South Americans a tough nut to crack – at the 2021-22 FIH Pro League, Belgium had lost to Argentina by an identical 1-2 margin in the first leg but won the second leg 2-0.
Back-to-back defeats are something not usually associated with the Red Lions. The supremely talented side was clear playing below their best – world hockey knows what they are capable of – Belgium could perhaps not have afforded a third straight defeat when they took on Germany in their second leg tie – a tooth-and-nail contest that did not produce any goals in the first three quarters – it was Tom Boon’s short corner goal in the final quarter that paved the way for their first win of the 2022-23 FIH Pro League.
The hard-fought solitary goal win over Germany seemed to have triggered an extra spring in the strides of the Red Lions, when they faced up against Argentina in their fourth game. Alexander Hendrickx took it upon himself to deliver a telling statement against Argentina – the 29-year-old drag-flicker who plays his club hockey for Dutch club Pinoke, struck a splendid four-goal hat-trick to turn the Argentina clash into a no-contest.
Coach Michel van den Heuvel would know well that defeats in the first two games of the 2022-23 FIH Pro League is the reason why Belgium is placed fourth in the points table behind Spain, Germany, and India – of course, one must not forget that world number one Australia and the world number three Netherlands are yet to launch their 2022-23 FIH Pro League campaign.