Even with all our experience, we can still improve.

The red black gold conquest continues in India starting tomorrow. There, the Belgian hockey players defended their world title, which they won in December 2018 at the same stadium. “We still want to win everything,” says goalkeeper Vincent Vanach.

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On 16 December 2018, India’s Red Lions defeated the Netherlands after penalty kicks in the final and won their first major trophy, the World title. This was followed by a victory at the 2019 European Championships in Antwerp and gold at the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Now the hockey men are back in Bhubaneswar to defend their world title. They do it with the same golden generation. Only Tanguy Cousins ​​(31 years old and good for 157 caps) wasn’t around in 2018. The staff remains unchanged. After Tokyo, Michel van den Heuvel replaced Shane MacLeod in T1. NZ is now a consultant.

Tomorrow the Red Lions will play their first group match against South Korea, after which matches against Germany (01/17) and Japan (01/20) will be on the agenda. Vincent Vanach (35), who has been named the best goalkeeper in the world three times, is ready for battle.

Are you still looking forward to a tournament in India?

“It’s a pity to play the World Cup again with any Belgium fans, but for the rest, it’s still great to make the trip to India. The atmosphere in the stadium is unique. It will be the fourth or fifth time we go to Bhubaneswar. We know Everything is there: the Kalinga stadium, the hotel… The fact that we have to travel to another city, Rourkela, for one group stage match makes it even more adventurous.”

I was very decisive with the three gold medals. In the 2018 World Cup and the 2021 Games I prevented penalties and in Euro 2019 I prevented defeat in the semi-finals by seeing a German hand in a penalty kick when I was trailing 0-2.

“There are already some details in the back of my mind. The coaching staff and the players: we pay attention to everything. During the World Cup we also have enough time to see all the opponents in action. We can gather a lot of information right away. You shouldn’t give me the role of champion, though That. We won’t always win on penalties. That was the case during the Euro 2021 semi-final against the Netherlands.”

With the World Cup in 2022, the European Championship in August 2023 and the Games in July 2024, three major agreements will be concluded within a year and a half. Is triple possible?

“I am anyway too hot To start. If this trio succeeds, this generation will be talked about forever. Our goal is to win it all. Yes, it is possible. Even with all our experience, we can still improve. We still have something to show the hockey world. It is sometimes whispered that this group is getting a little older, but if you see Lionel Messi at the World Cup, it doesn’t mean much.

How well are you Belgian recognized as an Olympic and world champion? Do people recognize you on the street?

“It is not at all that I always get a reply, but I get a reply every day. It happens that people approach me in a restaurant or in a supermarket. Mostly I get a lot of messages. For example, I regularly receive questions from children to be interviewed about Speaking engagements at the school. It’s clear that people are very proud of us. They love the red lions because they identify with our values.”

Vanash saves a penalty kick from Australian Jacob Witton during the Olympic final in Tokyo.A.P.’s photo

After the success story under Shane McLeod, it will now be the first major tournament in which Michiel van den Heeuvel as T1. Has much changed in approach?

“To the outside world this situation may seem strange, but Michelle and Shane, along with Craig Fulton, have worked closely together over the past seven years. We have the best staff in the world and we want to keep them that way. So not much has changed. “It’s nice to see Shane in an advisor role now. He’s more focused on the attacking area, while Michel is more interested in the defenders. Michel is a real winner and we want to relive all the highlights with him as a T1. It doesn’t give extra pressure.”

Between 2017 and 2019, you have been voted the best goalkeeper in the world three times in a row. Because you played less last year, Loic Van Doren is among the favorites this time around. He finished second after Indian Sreejesh. Justified?

“In recent years it hasn’t been easy to beat Indians in trophies. It’s a shame Loic didn’t win, he deserved it. Our coaches always say Loic will always be the number one goalkeeper in any other country. But I’m still here. (He laughs) We are constantly trying to make each other better and work perfectly together. I don’t see that happening in other countries. There is an eight year gap between us. So Loic will certainly have great moments on the field.”

I’ve won gold three times with roughly the same combination. After Tokyo, only Thomas Briels dropped out. There seems to be a good chance that this generation will still be around in Paris in 2024.

“Whatever the outcome in India, I don’t think any player will retire after the World Cup. However, that doesn’t mean everyone is sure of their place in the Games. Competition from youngsters is increasing. They have to challenge experienced players. The future of Belgian hockey is assured on any now.”

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Amber Webster

 "Freelance zombie fanatic. Devoted web advocate. Analyst. Writer. Coffee fanatic. Travelaholic. Proud food aficionado."

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