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Belgium celebrates: Red Dragons & Yellow Tigers smash way to World Championships for first time in 36 years

The Belgium men's and women's teams last played in the FIVB Volleyball World Championships in 1978

Lausanne, Switzerland, January 9, 2014 - Volleyball was one of the top talking points throughout the whole of Belgium after “Super Sunday”. Newspaper pages were dedicated to the fact that both national teams had qualified for the FIVB Volleyball World Championships for the first time in 36 years. The fans also registered their approval, with social networks like Facebook and YouTube achieving unexpected coverage regarding the “Red Dragons” and “Yellow Tigers”.

“It is fantastic for Belgian sport, and it is great to be a part of this. We now have the chance to play against top countries like Brazil,” said middle blocker Simon Vandevoorde. The final of the qualifying tournament in Paris showed just how his team has improved, defeating hosts France 3-2 to claim a third victory from three matches. The “brain” behind the triumph was 36-year-old setter Frank Depestele, who is already looking forward to the World Championship finals from August 30 to September 21 in Poland: “This success will extend my international career by at least nine months.”

The last time a Belgian men’s national team qualified for the World Championship finals was back in 1978. That was the Belgians’ sixth appearance in the prestigious tournament, and their squad included a certain Dominique Baeyens. He is now set to return to the World Championship as coach of the “Red Dragons”. “We have made great progress.” Last year’s seventh place was the best result for a long time. This year, the team is making its debut in the FIVB World League, where it will face Canada, Australia and Finland in the Preliminary Round. 

The spectacular success for Belgian volleyball has not come about by chance, but is the result of many years of development, talent scouting and outstanding work with promising youngsters, including 20 hours of volleyball practice per week. Many of today’s successful players have been playing together in the national youth teams for the last decade. Among the successes enjoyed by these youth teams was gold for the Belgian girls at the first Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010, when they overcame the volleyball power that is USA. Another key to the success currently being enjoyed is the experience gained by the best Belgian players at top clubs in professional leagues around the world. The years of work and money invested by the national federation and the Belgian Olympic Committee is just starting to pay off.

The ladies’ national team had already caught the eye last year with bronze at the European Championship – the largest international success for Belgian volleyball to date. Last summer, the “Yellow Tigers” played 38 matches, losing just four – all against Germany. Their coach Giovanni Guidetti, who also coaches World Club Champions Vakifbank Istanbul, is full of praise for the progress made by Belgium’s volleyball queens: “They have developed enormously and deserve their place among the top teams in Europe.”

This evaluation was backed up emphatically by the displays at last weekend’s World Championship qualifiers. Led by the magnificent setter Frauke Dirickx, hosts Poland were dispatched 3-0 despite the euphoric home support in the huge arena in Lodz. This gave the Belgians a perfect record of three wins. “We played very well in defence and block, which was the main trouble for them. We also served well and I think we deserve this qualification. The level of this match was very high, but the pressure of the crowd was on them and it helped us a lot,” coach Gert Vande Broek said after his team’s success against one of volleyball’s powerhouses.

His team has arrived in the world elite: this is confirmed by the first ever appearance in the FIVB World Grand Prix, where Poland, Peru, Puerto Rico, the Netherlands, Argentina, Canada and Cuba await. The prestigious competition will also serve as excellent preparation for the FIVB Volleyball Women's World Championship, which takes place in Italy from September 23 to October 12.

Like the Belgian men, this will be the first appearance in the World Championships for 36 years, and the first ever for the “Yellow Tigers”. And there is a special story behind this too: Lise Van Hecke, the strong attacker who plays her volleyball in Italy, was key to the Belgians qualifying. The last time a team from Belgian played at the World Championships in 1978, her mother Lieve Van de Velde was representing her country.

It looks unlikely, after the spectacular double qualification for the World Championships, that Belgian volleyball will have to endure such a long baron run again. Men’s coach Dominique Baeyens revealed the next goal for the “Red Dragons” and “Yellow Tigers” - “The Olympic Games are the next step.” Belgian’s volleyball stars will be confident they can accomplish that mission too.

FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship Poland 2014
FIVB Volleyball Women's World Championship Italy 2014


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