India hand Belgium their first loss in FIH Pro League
The Indian hockey men’s team beat world champions Belgium 2-1 in their FIH Pro League encounter at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneshwar on Saturday, handing the top-ranked side their first defeat of the season.
India took the lead within a minute and a half, with Mandeep Singh opening the scoring once again. He started the move himself, sprinting to retrieve the ball on the left and passed it to the debutant Raj Kumar Pal.
The latter found Dilpreet Singh in space and his shot was deflected in by Mandeep Singh, who was barely a yard from goal.
The lead came just a few seconds after Belgium skipper, Thomas Briels missed a chance at the other end as his own deflection went wide after he sneaked in behind Jarmanpreet Singh.
Both teams then lost their referrals as Belgium unsuccessfully appealed for a penalty stroke, while the Indian hockey team lost theirs when they appealed for a reverse stick. It hurt the latter at a later stage in the first quarter as Raj Kumar Pal furiously asked for a referral after his shot apparently struck a foot but he had to get on with the game.
Indian goalkeeper, Krishan Pathak, was in his element, making three big saves, two from penalty corners and one superb reaction save as Belgium failed to equalize with the goal gaping.
Despite enjoying more possession, Belgium went into the first quarter break behind.
Belgium let go of their chances
The Indian hockey team looked the more likely to score the next goal even in the second quarter of the FIH Pro League 2020 fixture.
Ramandeep Singh was almost in on goal after a rare move down the right-wing but Arthur de Sloover and Belgium goalkeeper, Vincent Vanasch combined to keep it away from him. Lalit Upadhyay and Gurjant Singh then played a lovely one-two on the left-wing to create a chance for Ramandeep Singh but it was cleared before he could get his shot away.
Belgium earned as many as seven penalty corners and had 11 shots at goal but an alert PR Sreejesh, who pulled off several good saves, and the Indian hockey defence, helped out at times by their backtracking forwards, ensured they went into half-time with a one-goal lead.
Belgium hit back early in the second half
With all traditional attacking plays failing to yield a goal, Belgium tried something different with their first penalty corner of the second half. They used a decoy as Alexander Hendrickx shaped up to hit the trap but instead let it go through.
Gauthier Boccard, making his first appearance at the FIH Pro League this season, hit a thunderous shot into the roof of the net to give Krishan Pathak no chance and finally bring Belgium level.
The Red Lions continued their strategy of relentless possession and attack but were not incisive enough with their passes, failing to test the Indian goal. The rest of the third quarter was a bit scrappy, even by the Indian hockey team as they failed to build any sort of momentum.
India's best chance came when Ramandeep Singh fed a penalty corner in and skipper Manpreet Singh, instead of trapping it, quickly got his stick into the shooting position and put the ball in through a deflection.
However, the joy was short-lived as the umpire referred it upstairs, who deemed that the ball had left the circle as it was rolling off Manpreet Singh’s stick. At the other end, Krishan Pathak added to his collection of saves by quickly making himself big to deny Belgium the lead.
India seize the lead
The Indian hockey team made their chance count with their first penalty corner of the fourth quarter as an instinctive Ramandeep Singh finally got on the scoresheet.
He fed the ball in but vice-captain Harmanpreet Singh’s shot was deflected by the Belgian defenders. However, Ramandeep Singh was alert to it and reacted very well to put the ball in before it bounced.
Belgium went back to their profligate ways after the goal as they looked rusty with the ball and the Indian custodians added to their frustrations with their reactions.
The Red Lions had a late chance to equalize through a penalty corner but like most of the game, PR Sreejesh - who came on at half time - made the save to cap off a famous win for the Indian hockey men’s team in the FIH Pro League.
What next for India at the FIH Pro League
The Indian hockey team will face off against Belgium again on Sunday in the FIH Pro League 2020. The home side are currently second on the table with eight points, three behind Belgium and could leapfrog them if they win by a four-goal margin.