By Laurent Toussaint
Lelgium has truly entered the final stretch of its preparation for the world tournament. Indeed, the Panthers will not even return to Belgium on Sunday afternoon, after their last Pro League match against the United States, at ‘s-Hertogenbosch. They will go directly to Sant Cugat del Vallès, 15 kilometers from Terrassa, in Catalonia, where they will play their 3 group matches (South Africa, Australia, Japan). An appointment that the group is looking forward to in order to reap the fruits of the colossal work undertaken 18 months ago. Indeed, since Raoul Ehren’s job award, this team has really been transformed. The caterpillar turned into a butterfly by sparing no effort and daily investment. There have been sacrifices, sweat and tears. But it was worth it as confirmed by all the players who modified a broad smile of contentment by evoking the path travelled.
“It is indeed at the physical level that the transformation is the most impressive”, confirms Judith Vandermeiren, one of the engines of the Red Panthers in the midfield. “We were never very far from our competitors tactically or technically but we couldn’t make the difference because of our physicality. So we worked like crazy to change that. And it was difficult, we must not hide it. But there is a click that allowed us to grasp the vital importance of going to the gym 3 times a week. Now, we can last the 60 minutes by still making great efforts in the last moments while making the necessary gesture. And it also allows us to be much more lucid in decision-making. »
Against England last Sunday in London, the Panthers delivered a benchmark match against the 4th nation in the world (success 1-4). A sparkling and solid performance that allows supporters to get excited and dream 8 days before the start of the World Cup. “We have a style of direct ball game like Australia or England”, continues the Antwerp woman with 193 selections. “These 2 teams also like to evaluate in counter-attacks as soon as they recover the ball. Since the arrival of Raoul Ehren, we have put in place this pressing which is wreaking havoc. It is a combination of tactical, technical and physical skills in which we can still progress. But that changes everything. We recover a lot of balls and we especially dare to play directly forward. This is also a major difference compared to what we offered 3 years ago. We have created our own style of play and above all our own DNA. There is quality in this group and we have a lot of game options. We want to offer a direct and aggressive game. »
Always more demanding with themselves
Confident and diligent, the Belgian players, who today occupy the best world ranking in their history with this 6th place, have above all raised their standards and their requirements. No more question of being satisfied with average services or deceiving. They work hard on the video, even after a success, to correct what was not perfect. “It’s true that the state of mind has changed,” still recognizes the Braxgata player. “We are even more detail-oriented. We no longer just want to be on par with the best nations. We want to win and create many more chances than our opponents. A few months ago we had many circle entries but we weren’t efficient enough yet. So we worked on this aspect to get more pc and score more goals. »
Confidence is therefore in good shape in the clan of the Panthers who have never seemed so fulfilled. There are still a few loose ends to be worked out, but the bulk of the work has been accomplished. The team is eager to do battle at the World Cup and clearly displays its ambitions. A first place in pool B would already open up great prospects in the quarter-finals, as confirmed by Judith Vandermeiren. “Now we want to get results on the pitch. The confidence is total. Each player has become aware of her qualities and strengths, but above all she dares to use them. Even the youngest are not afraid of anything. There is a lot of talent in all lines but also the will to give everything for the team. Our first objective is to finish at the top of our group. Then we will see…”
Saturday and Sunday, against the United States, the Red Panthers will make every effort to add 2 new successes to their pockets and to secure their 4th final place in this Pro League. Duels which above all allow them to take several small steps forward 8 days before their start against South Africa, in Terrassa.