By Jugjet Singh
SUMMER in Belgium is a week late, and even the locals are still in their jackets waiting for the sun to shine.
The famous outdoor bars in Antwerp still display empty chairs and tables, while its packed to the brim indoors, with everybody waiting anxiously for more heat this summer.
The World League Semifinals, an Olympic Qualifier, started yesterday with the women's teams and men's Group A matches, and the KHC Red Dragons stadium was ready in every aspect to host the multitude of teams -- all playing at one pitch only.
Malaysia's first recorded match against Belgium was at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the final score was 3-3, with 1-1 at half-time. The Malaysian heroes who scored then were C. Paramalingam (40th, 53rd) and Koh Hock Seng (32nd).
Belgium were better in hockey even earlier, in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics they finished seventh, Singapore eighth and Malaysia ninth among 12 teams.
However, in Melbourne Malaysia did not cross paths with Belgium, in a tournament which Kenya were 10th, Afghanistan 11th and USA 12th.
Hockey has always been a proud tradition here, and KHC Dragons alone has 1,800 members with 1,400 of them active players.
The Belgians, who speak Dutch in Antwerp, French in Brussels and English everywhere, are blessed to have borders with Germany, Netherlands and France as playing hockey with other nations is just a bus ride away.
Unlike Malaysia, who needs to take a flight to India, Pakistan, Japan or South Korea to play quality matches.
So its no surprise that Belgium are the most improved team in field hockey in the last five years as they finished fifth on three occasions -- the 2012 London Olympics and Champions Trophy in Melbourne, as well as last year's World Cup at the Netherlands.
Asian teams India, Pakistan, South Korea and Malaysia are now no match for the Belgians, and in the World League they are expected to be in the semi-finals and qualify for the Olympics.
As for Malaysia, they open their campaign against China Sunday wearing a black arm-band and a minute of silence will be observed for the tragedy which befell our goalkeeper S. Kumar.
Hopefully, the sun will smile on the Malaysian team today and there will be sunshine moments which will eventually take the nation into the Olympics after being in the grey shades of winter for the past 16 years.