In the three years Shane McLeod has been at the helm of the Belgium Red Lions, he has steered the team up the FIH Hero World Rankings to third place and led the team to an Olympic silver medal at the Rio Games in 2016.
The Red Lions are now regarded as genuine medal contenders at every major international and the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018 is the perfect opportunity for his team to become legends.
For the past few years, the Royal Belgian Hockey Association has developed one of the most enviable national training programmes in the world. It works alongside the strong domestic league season so the players enjoy both the consistency of training as a squad and the competitiveness of playing against each other in the domestic league.
"Spectators can expect a fast, high-scoring team with a solid defence."
Shane McLeod, Belgium Head Coach
In the build-up to the World Cup, the Belgium's Red Lions will be training four days a week with the national squad. Within the programme there are also seven international fixtures and a number of inter-squad games.
Key to success, says McLeod, who played his own hockey for New Zealand, is a strong, coherent team culture. “We have a young but experienced group of players (five members of the junior team that won silver at the 2016 Junior World Cup are in contention for places). Most of them are used to the pressure of this type of event but what is important to our group is how well we work together both on and off the field. We spend time looking to develop many aspects of our team culture and values that we all strongly believe in.”
While the past few months and the next few weeks are all about preparing the team, once Belgium arrive in Bhubaneswar, McLeod will settle back and try to enjoy the ride. “I want to make sure I enjoy it. Hockey is a great game and so are the people involved. When you play a World Cup it is like a celebration of all the work that you put in beforehand. The pressure time is actually in making sure everything is in place in the months leading to the World Cup.”
A World Cup in India is an experience that hockey players never forget. Exuberant, passionate fans; high levels of excitement surrounding each match and ear-splitting noise in the stadium. How will the Belgium players stand up to the pressure?
“All of our World Cup team would have been to India and experienced the conditions that Indian hockey will provide,” says McLeod. “The hardest thing to prepare them for is the very vocal local crowd cheering for the home nation. This you can only experience in India.”
In recent years, Belgium have been one of the leaders in innovative hockey. It is not a position that McLeod wants to relinquish. Since the Rio Olympic Games, he says that a lot of teams have moved to emulate the Belgium team's zonal style of play, so his tactic has been to develop new strategies to “make sure we keep leading the way”.
Certainly what spectators can expect from Belgium is a fast, high-scoring team with a solid defence, adds McLeod.
“It is close between the teams at the top,” says the Head Coach, “And what will set the top teams apart will be in the small details. That makes for a very close and exciting World Cup.”
Belgium take on Canada in the opening game of the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018. For a full schedule of matches click
For all details about the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018, click .