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Best result: First time in the Olympics
The Belgium women's team is the lowest-ranked team in this year's Olympics and the biggest surprise package. The Olympic first-timers had won the Champions Challenge 2 in 2011, beating Italy 2-1 in the final and moved to the next tier. Belgium will compete in Champions Challenge 1 scheduled in Dublin in September-October this year.
The Road to London:
The Belgium women's team qualified for the London Games by winning the second qualifying tournament played at Kontich in March. They beat Spain, ranked 11th in the world, 1-0 and went on to win the final against Ireland 4-1. The Belgians also decimated Mexico 12-0 in the tournament, the biggest margin of victory registered in the qualifying rounds of the London Games.
Players to watch out for:
Jill Boon, known for her quick and strong attacking game, and Stephanie de Groof, a penalty-corner specialist, are the two pillars of the team. Tom Boon in the Belgium's men's side is the brother of Jill, which makes them the only brother-sister duo representing their nation in this Olympics. Belgium will be, however, a depleted force in the mega finals in the absence of the terrific Sofie Gierts, who scored a hattrick against Ireland in the qualifying final to earn her side the maiden berth in the Olympics.
1. Little expectation on the team that will make its Olympic debut this year. That could help the Belgian eves to prove themselves the Cinderellas.
1. Little exposure at the highest level. One or two lopsided defeats against the stronger teams can leave the team exhausted.
Chances to progress at the London Games: 1/10
Belgium will surely play for their pride. They can give a tough fight to teams like China and Japan, also comparatively new in women's hockey. The Olympic exposure will give the team to build up on in the future. Belgium will take on defending champions and No. 1 team in the world, the Netherlands, in their opening match on Jul 29.
Squad: Charlotte De Vos (c), Nadine Khouzam (gk), Jill Boon, Louise Cavenaile, Erica Coppery, Stephanie De Groof, Hélène Delmée, Alix Gerniers, Lola Danhaive, Anouk Raes, Emilie Sinia, Gaëlle Valcke, Lieselotte Van Lindt, Judith Vandermeiren, Anne-Sophie Van Regemortel. Reserves: Valérie Vermeersch, Aisling D'Hooghe.
Coach: Pascal Kina, who was the assistant coach for the men's national team till 2007. He was removed along with the entire coaching crew after the team's miserable performance at the Champions Challenge that year. Adam Commens, who had replaced Kina, later went on to become the coach of Australia's women's team. Kina had moved over to the women's side and tasted two big success at the Champions Challenge 1 and Olympic qualifier. He was recently named as Belgium's 2012 coach of the year.