Belgium halted India’s winning spree in the FIH Hockey pro league as the Olympic Champions overpowered Men in Blue 2-1 as the Europe leg commenced at the Lee Valley Stadium in London on Friday.
Versatile striker Mandeep Singh scored India’s lone goal while Thibeau Stockbroekx (18′) and Nelson Onana (60+) scored a goal each for the winners.
India started aggressively creating early opportunities with Vice Captain Hardik Singh playing a key role in the attack, fetching an early shot on goal from the top of the D and shaking off the nervousness of playing against the World Cup runners up. However, Belgium’s goalie Loic Van Doren was impressive in the goal post, whisking away India’s hopes of an early goal.
The next few minutes of the first quarter saw Belgium drop the pace of the game, cautiously rotated the ball and controlled the play. With 20 seconds left for the first hooter, Belgium who had kept the ball possession for the most part, saw Victor Wegnez create a PC. But Loick Luypaert’s drag flick was stopped by India’s first rusher Amit Rohidas, warding off an early setback.
Three minutes into the second quarter, Belgium managed to break the deadlock as they created yet another penalty corner. This time, though Sreejesh made two brilliant saves off the drag flick from Luypaert, Belgium kept the ball on rebound only to create a clever set play within the D to beat Sreejesh. It was Thibeau Stockbroekx who picked up a good assist to loft the ball into the net.
Not letting the goal put them under the pump, India bounced back when Vivek Sagar Prasad earned his team their first PC in the 25th minute of the game. Though Harmanpreet picked up a powerful drag flick, the ball bounced off Belgium’s defender on the line of the goal. Mandeep Singh, lurking around the post picked up the rebound, produced a fine finish to equalise. This was Mandeep’s 98th international goal.
With scoreboard reading 1-1 at half time, the two teams came off the ten-minute break with a fresh intent to register a lead. Within the first five minutes, both teams traded PCs but neither were successful in their attempts. Though Belgium had another opportunity, just seconds before the hooter went off, they could not convert.
Continuing to be in a gridlock, the match came down to the wire with both teams vying for that elusive goal. Four minutes into the quarter, Belgium managed a PC while trying to drive into the left flank. But Sreejesh was excellent in the post to make a fine save. He continued to produce some mouth-watering saves that kept Belgium in the hunt.
While India continued to defend well , their attack was slowed down with Belgium adapting to full pressure.
The final two minutes of the game remained tense but Belgium came through with a lead when they created a PC with seconds left for the final hooter. It didn’t help that India in their effort to defend gave away a few extra PCs that cost them dearly. It was newcomer Nelson Onana who scored from a rebound coming off a PC and securing a win for his team.
India will take on hosts Great Britain on Saturday.