Hamilton (New Zealand): The Indian men’s hockey team produced a spirited performance to upstage world No.3 Belgium 5-4 in its second match of the Four Nations Invitational Tournament’s second leg in Hamilton on Thursday.
India had earlier lost 1-2 to Belgium in the final of the first leg but held their nerve till the final hooter to come up with a winner in this high-tempo, high-speed match.
Rupinder Pal Singh (4′, 42′), Harmanpreet Singh (46′), Lalit Upadhyay (53′) and Dilpreet Singh (59′) scored in India’s win while John-John Dohmen (17′), Felix Denayer (37′), Alexander Hendrickx (45′) and Tom Boon (56′) scored for Belgium.
Sjoerd Marijne-coached India began the match with disciplined structure, playing two-touch hockey to rotate the ball swiftly and accurately to pave their way into Belgium’s striking circle.
The effort paid off early when Vivek Sagar Prasad made a quick penetration from the left flank forcing Belgian defender to foul which resulted in the first penalty corner of the match.
It was in-form Rupinder Pal Singh, who stepped up for the drag flick, improvising on Lalit Upadhyay’s injection to fiercely put the ball into the top net. The early 1-0 lead undoubtedly put the Belgians on the backfoot.
But the European side came back in the second quarter with a potent attack that put pressure on the Indian defence.
A top of the circle penetration by John-John Dohmen caught the Indian defender Varun Kumar off-guard, as he positioned himself comfortably to take a successful reverse hit leveling the score 1-1.
A PC won by Belgium in the 24th minute saw dangerous Tom Boon take the flick but was brilliantly saved by Sreejesh who plunged to his left to snuff it away.
With seconds remaining for the second hooter, India won a PC but Rupinder’s flick this time went wide ending the second quarter in a stalemate.
The match took a dramatic turn in the third quarter, with both teams displaying top quality skills to take the lead. It was Belgium who forced a foul in the Indian circle to win a PC in the 37th minute.
With a runner missing on the baseline, as they broke too early before the flick, Belgium tried a variation that worked with Felix nudging the ball into the post that put Belgium in 2-1 lead.
Minutes later, a defensive error in their circle saw Belgium give away a PC which was superbly struck by Rupinder in the similar fashion that he scored earlier fetching India the much-needed 2-2 equalizer in the 42nd minute.
Though India were resilient in their defence, an attempt to stop the Belgian forward in the baseline saw India concede a PC with just 43 seconds remaining for the third hooter.
Despite the drag flick being effectively saved by Sreejesh, Belgium kept the ball with Dohmen nudging it to Alexander Hendrickx who found the gap only to win Belgium the 3-2 lead.
With both teams unrelenting in their efforts, the final quarter was nerve-wracking as India came back from the break pressing Belgium high up.
India won a PC on the counter attack, and this time though Rupinder’s drag flick was saved by the Belgian goal keeper Vincent Vanasch, the rebound landed with Harmanpreet Singh who made no mistake in whipping it past Vanasch leveling the score 3-3.
India were awarded yet another PC in the following minute but was well-saved, however, Belgium defence was punished when Vivek Prasad came up with brilliant stick work to dribble past Belgian defenders only to find Lalit unmanned in front of the post.
A perfectly timed deflection by Lalit put India in 4-3 lead in the 53rd minute.
Under pressure to keep the lead, India fumbled in the circle to concede a PC with less than five minutes for the final hooter and the error was punished by Belgian drag flicker Tom Boon who was fierce in his attempt to fetch his team a 4-4 equaliser.
With clock ticking away, both teams hunted for a winner, and despite Belgium holding the ball for most part could not break Indian defence. It was Sreejesh who made a brilliant save yet again to contain Cedric Charlier from scoring.
Seconds later, Indian forward Ramandeep Singh found himself making an ambitious circle entry from the top, turning around to beat Belgian defender, striking the ball towards the post.
With Dilpreet Singh lurking around unmanned, it was another perfectly timed deflection by him that registered the win for India.
On 27 January, India will take on Japan in their third match.