Danny Kerry declared Belgium to be “red hot favourites” as he prepares his England side to face the Red Lions in the semi-final of the Hockey Men’s World Cup this weekend.
“It’s the golden generation of Belgian hockey.” said the England Head Coach.
“They’ve largely outplayed most teams here so we’ll have to be at our very best. They will try and make the pitch big and open up the space. They have good players in every line so it’ll be very tough.”
Kerry identifies Arthur Van Doren – the current holder of both FIH World Player of the Year and FIH World Young Player of the Year as the man in amongst a star-studded line-up who makes Belgium tick and despite the abundance of quality in the Belgium side, Kerry says he is “really looking forward to it”.
England started the tournament with a surprise 2-2 draw with China before losing out to Australia in a game where they matched the reigning world champions for much of the contest before conceding three goals in the final quarter. That set up Kerry’s side for three must-win games, firstly with Ireland, to qualify for the cross overs, before they faced New Zealand and then Argentina.
“We learned an important lesson from the loss to Australia. We pretty much matched them to half time and then second half they outplayed us. There were some good learnings from that loss which set us up for the next three matches and I’m very proud of how the boys have gone about their business since then.”
“We’ve definitely improved over the course of the matches and the message to the team in the preparation meetings is to keep improving, so that’s the aim for us going into this semi-final.”
Having come through three massive games to reach the semi-finals Kerry stresses the importance for his players to “follow the processes which got them to this point” rather than getting carried away with the occasion and what may lie beyond.
“It’s a bit of a mistake to build it up as a do or die.” he says. “The athletes know what’s at stake so actually your job in part is to get them focused on the right things. Not on the outcome but what we need to do to get there. Not going into the importance of the game and not getting ahead of yourself, that’s how you need to approach the game, stay in the moment.”
Kerry guided England’s women to the European title in 2015 and then took Great Britain’s women to the Olympic gold in 2016, so is obviously no stranger to the big occasion. Typically he refuses to be drawn on England’s chances of making the final, saying they need to be “very savvy” and adding that they’ve shown they “can be smart when it matters.”
There is no doubt the task of reaching the final is a massive one, but with Kerry’s side improving every game, anything’s possible. On the day, as they say, anything can happen.