An all-round attacking display in Antwerp guided India to a scintillating 5-1 win over the reigning World and European champions Belgium on Thursday.
With the win, India emerges with a 100% record on their tour of Belgium.
Winning all of their five fixtures, the fifth-ranked Indian team started its tour with a narrow 2-0 win over the hosts before dismantling Spain 6-1 and 5-1 in subsequent games. The streak stretched to five after they wrapped up their run with two consecutive (2-1 and 5-1) victories against Belgium.
India got off the mark early in the game with forward Simranjeet Singh converting through a fine attack in the 7th minute. The hosts responded in no time, but goalkeeper Krishan B Pathak made sure his team stayed in the lead by making an exceptional save following a 9th-minute penalty corner.
Pathak was up for a gruelling few moments in the second quarter as Belgium forced India to back-to-back penalty corners in the 16th minute. As the home team pushed for an equaliser, India did enough to hold their ground through resolute defending. By the stroke of half-time, the visitors somehow managed to stay in the lead.
Second half attack
India’s attacking approach in the second half bore fruit as Lalit Kumar Upadhyay extended their lead to two. Belgium lost concentration and conceded another in the following minute, with Vivek Sagar Prasad squaring off through a crafty finish.
Despite enjoying a 3-0 lead, India went through a barrage of Belgium attacks. A 38th-minute penalty corner saw the hosts almost pulling one back, but PR Sreejesh's diving save kept the score intact.
Sreejesh couldn’t match the save at the second time of asking as Alexander Hendrickx did enough to deny India a clean sheet, making it 3-1 in the 39th minute.
The reigning champions though failed to keep the momentum as India once again scored twice in two minutes to make it 5-1. Scoring through a penalty corner, drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh first restored India’s three-goal cushion in the 42nd minute before Ramandeep Singh boosted the scoreline further.
While India’s offensive front was on par, some strong tackling and crucial interceptions in the final quarter made sure the team maintained its 100% record in the five-match series.
India will now return home and prepare for the crucial FIH Olympic Qualifiers against Russia which will be held on November 1 and 2 at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, Odisha.