Like the Red Devils, the Red Lions have a golden generation, but it doesn’t last forever. The whole group sees Tokyo as the ideal time to harvest the gold. In Rio they were just too green, not mature enough to stunt again in the final after the ecstasy against the Netherlands. But now the Red Lions are so much more mature, even better trained, armed with already a European and World Cup title, and above all with a rock-solid belief in success.

At sixty minutes they are of a magnum opus conducted for years. But they have to get the gold against the best hockey country in the world, Australia. Though that doesn’t say much. The Red Devils also did not win a European Championship title due to their leadership position in the FIFA ranking. The Red Lions don’t let any status get them off their feet. They are now purely focused on how to tactically, mentally and physically beat Australia. For that final step in their golden ambition, as a group, they have invested more time together than anyone else.

Like an F1 car

“In the final we have to get into sixth gear,” McLeod often told his players. He and his staff have fine-tuned the Red Lions like a Formula 1 car to blaze. The national coach easily finds the right words to excite his group at crucial moments. Just as his imagery about the climb to the highest mountain peak provides something to hold on to. Undoubtedly, his part is large in the latest push to the top of the world. Ten months after McLeod’s appointment in 2015, all the silver followed in Rio and then the big titles piled up.

Olympic gold can fill the last gap. Silver would leave an unsatisfied feeling. For McLeod and the veterans of this generation, the Olympic title is also an urgency. McLeod retires as coach after the final: after Tokyo, assistant Michel van den Heuvel takes over. And Felix Denayer, Thomas Briels, John-John Dohmen or Cedric Charlier are already in their thirties: how long are they going or do they want to go?

None of the Red Lions are putting themselves in the foreground for this final. McLeod does not want to emphasize his farewell match: “This final has nothing to do with me.” Given the enormous effort in the final chord, the emotions will be overwhelming today, whether it be a win or a loss. Gold or silver, McLeod says he is already grateful to be able to work with this group: “We have written a fantastic story. We’ve been working on this final for five years now. We’re aiming for a fairytale ending. At gold, this team will go down in history as one of the best hockey teams ever. But you shouldn’t be upset with silver either.”

Famous speeches

McLeod would address the Red Lions on the eve of the final. One of his famous speeches. Like in the semi-final of Rio against the Netherlands, when he hit the Red Lions with the story that his wife as a doctor could see on the monitor of the heart patients how they sympathized. In Tokyo, McLeod deliberately did not give a reason for the semi-final. Because the climax only comes in the final. McLeod: “I have something I will tell them. But above all, I will thank them for all those years together.”

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