Belgium look to avenge Rio loss against Argentina

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Argentina are ranked one in the world, but don't let that fool you into believing they hold any edge over third-ranked Belgium, who come into this tournament on the back of some consistent form over the last year and a bit, the Olympic final notwithstanding.

The second day of the Hockey World League Final will begin with the first of four matches at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar slotted at noon. It will be the first of Pool A's games, though, and Saturday will see a rematch of the men's Olympic final from 2016 between Argentina and Belgium, which Belgium lost 4-2.

"It was disappointing, for sure, but it was also an achievement. It was the first time we have stood on the podium at a major event [Belgium won bronze at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, but in a field of four teams] and sometimes you have to lose a final to be able to win a final," says Belgium coach Shane McLeod. "We learnt from that experience and I think it's only a matter of time before Belgium wins a major event."

It is not an empty boast -- Belgium might only be ranked third in the world, but are improving with each international outing. After losing the Olympic final 4-2 to Argentina, their junior team pushed India to the brink in the World Cup final in Lucknow in December. This year, they have already won silver at the European Championships, and emerged victorious at the World League Semi-final tournament in Johannesburg in July. The latter was won by brushing the Germans aside by a 6-1 margin in the final, taking their goals scored in seven games to 37.

McLeod feels the team's performances in recent years has been the principal reason behind an increasing interest in a sport that has never been able to create a successful financial model within the country.

"It's getting much better. All of the club games are now filmed, and one game per week is put on television. So it has its own channel, which is quite a big step," says McLeod. "Because it's a country that doesn't have a lot of team sports to follow -- they have the football team that is doing really well -- but they are used to individuals. They are used to the tennis players like Justine Henin, (David) Goffin. But now with the Red Lions, they have a team to follow. It's growing, and growing quite quickly. It's the same with the number of players that are joining clubs and the sport is really booming."

The pedigree of the team will be visible in Bhubaneswar, where the usual suspects like defender Arthur van Doren, midfielder John-John Dohmen and striker Tom Boon are joined by some members of the junior team from last year. McLeod marks out the "very fast" Victor Wegnez, midfielders Antoine Kina, Nicolas De Kerpel and Arthur De Sloover as the ones likely to make an impression this time around.

McLeod says on-field success has helped attract good sponsors like Audi, who sponsor the men's league in Belgium now, and BNP-Paribas affiliate FINTRO, who are putting good money into the game.

"They put a lot of investment in youth programs, like what they call the 'BeGold' program, where top coaches are coaching young players and getting them through with top quality, so that by the time they come to me, they are pretty much formed and I just have to polish them up."

The motivation to perform well at the World League Final is pretty simple for Belgium, especially as they don't have an Asian Games or Commonwealth Games to compete in next year, ahead of the World Cup in Bhubaneswar next November.

"It is an important one, because we want to go into 2018 knowing what our squad will be and who will be involved. So this is our last time to try and experiment. Once we have done that, it's pretty fixed.

"The last thing that we will have before the World Cup, we're hoping, will be an invite to the Champions Trophy because that will be a really nice tournament to play in. Also the crowds - we want to experience a big crowd and we want the players to experience that environment so that they feel comfortable in front of big crowds in such important games."