Only twelve weeks separate us from the EuroHockey Championships in our country. The top European hockey nations will compete for the title in the Belfius EuroHockey Championships on the Wilrijkse Plein in Antwerp from 16th to 25th August. In 10 days' time, the Belgian national teams will play their next FIH Pro League home matches in that same location, which will be the start of a summer of hockey in Antwerp.
FIH Pro League is the new international top competition gathering nine of the best hockey nations in the world. Both the national men's and women's teams will compete for the Pro League Champion title in eight home and away matches. The Red Lions' and Red Panthers' first home matches were already played in Uccle in April, the following six meets will take place on the Wilrijkse Plein.
The Red Lions and Red Panthers will play their consecutive matches against England (30th May), Germany (2th June), The Netherlands (8th June), New-Zealand (16th June), Australia (19th June) and Argentina (23th June). The best four teams in the Pro League will qualify for the 'Grand Final' tournament at the end of June in Amstelveen. Additionally, there are lots of points to be scored for a place in the FIH world ranking, which go toward qualification for the Olympic Games and the World Cup.
"We started well in the Pro League" said Thomas Briels. "We remain unbeaten until now and we want it to stay that way. Our objective is to win all our games and become the first winner of the Pro League." The head coach Shane McLeod is also looking forward to the next matches. "I want to emphasize the development of the young players in the group during the Pro League. I have a squad of 23 players. We have also invited some younger players to give them the opportunity to test themselves at the highest level. I like the Pro League because it gives the opportunity to play important games. In that way we keep facing stress and nervousness."
"We will play against the top European nations", highlights Briels who is really looking forward to play the Championships. "It won't be easy, but sport is unpredictable. We are calm and we have already proven that we can cope with pressure." Vincent Vanasch is also excited about the event. "I am very happy to be able to play the Belfius EuroHockey Championships and to see all the supporters in the stands. Two years ago, we lost against the Netherlands in a stadium full of 'oranje' supporters. This year, I want to become European Champion in a stadium full of red fans!", concludes the goalkeeper of the Red Lions.
FOR YOUNG HOCKEY PLAYERS AND PROFESSIONALS
The Pro League matches on the Wilrijkse Plein are also the start of loads of hockey events in and around Antwerp in the lead up to the Belfius EuroHockey Championships. It is the intention to fully infect the host city with hockey fever and to prep all Antwerpians and Belgian hockey fans for the important appointment in August.
This weekend is the start of Belgian Street hockey for U14 and U16 boys and girls. The best teams from all the qualifying rounds will play the final in Antwerp in July. Club Tropicana, the biggest recreational hockey tournament of the country, will set up shop in Mechelen on 28th and 29th June. Furthermore, every participant will get a ticket for the Belfius EuroHockey Championships.
During the EuroHockey Championships, Tom Boon hockey camps will take over hockey club Beerschot. Every participant will also be able to visit the EuroHockey Championship and there will be clinics for the little ones on the EuroHockey site on the Wilrijkse Plein every day. The busy EuroHockey schedule further includes: the EHF Youth Leadership Festival, the EHF Top Coaches Programme and the Medical Congress 'Sport Injuries in Hockey and field sports: From head to toe'.
EURO PARAHOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIPS
The Cronos 2019 Euro ParaHockey Championships are much more than just a side event. The G-hockey players tournament is organised by the Royal Victory Hockey Club. Participating are two teams from Belgium and the Netherlands and one team each from England, Germany, France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Wales. The matches will be played on Victory's hockey pitches in Edegem on 19th and 20th August. The finals will be played on the site of the main tournament on 21st August!
"It was a logical decision for our club to organise the Cronos 2019 ParaHockey Tournament", says Chairman Leo Lucas. "Victory is the trailblazer of G-hockey (or parahockey) in Belgium. Our Wanderers are completely integrated in the club and they form one of the three sporting pillars of our club together with pro hockey and recreational hockey." The link with the head sponsor is easily made. Cronos is already a sponsor of the Wanderers. "Supporting the social integration of disabled sportsmen and women is important to us", says Dirk Deroost, CEO of Cronos Group. "We are proud to connect our name with this wonderful tournament."
RED IS THE NEW GOLD
Tickets for the Belfius EuroHockey Championships starting on Friday 16th August with the opening ceremony and the first match of the Red Lions against Spain, are selling fast. The day of the men's final (Saturday 24th August) is completely sold out, and there are only a few tickets left for the first Sunday of the tournament (including the Red Lions' match against England). Tickets for all other days are for sale.
Hockey Belgium and the organisers do not just want to sell seats; they also want the whole country to get behind our Red Lions and Panthers. 'Red is the new Gold' is a new campaign they are launching to get Belgian supporters excited about the EuroHockey Championships. Belfius will offer the biggest supporters the chance to join the Red Tribe, the beating heart of the legion of Belgian supporters. StuBru will select new Tribe members through a fan competition in the first week of June.
Marc Raisière, CEO Belfius: "Helping the Red Tribe, a fan club that stands behind our national teams as one big family, to grow completely dovetails with Belfius' aim as a proud partner of Hockey Belgium: bringing hockey closer to the people and lifting the hockey experience to an even higher level. The fact that the Belfius EuroHockey Championship is held in Antwerp, offers us the opportunity to - together with the Red Tribe - closely support our young Belgian talent and to make this EuroHockey Championship a great success."
EHF CELEBRATES IT'S 50TH YEAR
The EHF celebrates its 50th year this year with the theme 'My Hockey'. "We are very happy with the upcoming programme of events - developed by Belgian Hockey, Sportizon and EHF- creating a "Summer of Hockey in Antwerp", leading to the Belfius EuroHockey Championships", says Angus Kirkland, Director General of the EHF.
"The FIH Pro League matches being hosted in Belgium will feed into the excitement of the Belfius EuroHockey Championships. We expect to see full stands with fans from all over Europe and beyond. It is a testament to the quality of the teams and importance of this event, a direct Qualifier for the Tokyo Olympics, that the Men's Finals day is sold out months in advance, so we urge fans to make sure that they purchase their tickets well in advance!"
"The side events have a wonderful balance of elite and grassroots activities and we are, of course, particularly proud to be the leading Continental Federation in the growth and development of ParaHockey. We believe that our Club of the Year, Victory HC, will deliver a fantastic ParaHockey event, which for the first time has a named sponsor."
"We are looking forward to delivering, with the many stakeholders, a memorable event for fans, partners and athletes alike and to see who will take EuroHockey Gold and with it the much coveted 'golden ticket' to Tokyo 2020."
Lastly, the tournament and partner Brussels Airport are offering the very youngest hockey fans a once in a lifetime experience. Children born between 2009 and 2012 will get the chance to walk onto the pitch alongside one of our Red Panthers or Red Lions at the start of the match. You can find all the information about the 'kids line-up' and the competition on kidslineupek.brusselsairport.be.