India edge out Belgium at death, show rare resilience: Four-nation Hockey

By | January 25, 2018

Hamilton (New Zealand), 25 Jan 2018: A superb late-goal fashioned India’s brilliant victory over highly-rated Belgium 5-4 in the Four Nations Invitational hockey tournament, second leg, here at the Gallagher Hockey Stadium on Thursday.

It may be too early to comment but India, who were usually bogged down by conceding last-minute goals appear to have turned the wheel. For long, losing matches in the fag-end has been a character many coaches failed to tackle with consistency. So it is heartening to see India overcome the pressure and turn the tables on a better team with a last-minute goal. This augurs well for the future and provides a glimpse into the efforts of the coaching methods of the current coach. Scoring immediately after a strike by the rival and neutralising the advantage without losing any time, is another character that needs to be developed consistently over a period of time. It is noteworthy to notice how frequent are the moves by Indian players, where the number of the `adept and quick release of the ball’ without too much fuss is increasing. However, off the ball running and unforced errors are areas which need to be polished. Making mistakes where fundamentals are concerned are usually not tolerated at this level and will not go unpunished with most of the rivals.

India, held their nerve till the final hooter to come up with a winner in this high-tempo, high-speed match. It was Rupinder Pal Singh (4’, 42’), Harmanpreet Singh (46’), Lalit Upadhyay (53’) and Dilpreet Singh (59’) who scored in India’s win while John-John Dohmen (17’), Felix Denayer (37’), Alexander Hendrickx (45’) and Tom Boon (56’) scored for Belgium. Earlier in the first leg, India lost to Belgium 1-2, a Hockey India release said.

India’s Chief Coach Sjoerd Marijne would have been happy with the way his team 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 PC 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 puts the World No.3 Belgian unit on the backfoot.

But the world-class Belgian side came back into 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 a 2-1 lead. Minutes later though 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 goalkeeper 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 a 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 equalizer. With the clock ticking away, both teams hunted for a winner, and despite Belgium holding the ball for the most part could not break Indian defence. It was Sreejesh who made a brilliant save yet again to contain Cédric 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 January 27, India will take on Japan in their third match at 6.45 Hours IST.