Indian men hockey team’s sensational run of form continued as it stunned World Champions Belgium 2-1 to seal its third win on the trot in the FIH Pro League here on Saturday.
After defeating World No. 3 the Netherlands in its opening two matches of the FIH Pro League, India beat World No.1 Belgium in a thrilling match at the Kalinga Stadium here.
Mandeep Singh scored a field goal in the second minute of the match before Gauthier Boccard equalised for European champions in the 33rd minute with a powerful drag flick from a penalty corner. Ramandeep Singh scored the decisive goal in the 47th minute via a penalty corner to give World No. 4 India a victory in front of a frenzied crowd at the same venue where the home side beat the Dutch twice.
With this victory, India consolidated its ranking from No. 5 to No.4 for the first time since the World ranking system was introduced in 2003. The two sides meet again on Sunday at the same venue.
India did well to halt Belgium’s winning streak in the ongoing FIH Pro League. Coming into this match with identical 4-2 wins against Australia and 6-2 and 3-1 triumph against New Zealand, Belgium struggled to convert its chances against India.
Despite dominating with ball possession, making as many as 38 circle entries, taking 24 shots on goal and 12 penalty corners, the Belgian unit could not muster much success inside the circle.
The Belgians were denied thanks to stand-out performance by Indian goalkeepers PR Sreejesh and Krishan Pathak backing up India’s defence by stalling pretty much every opportunity created by the visiting team.
Pathak, who was named Player of the Match, said: “We started well and worked very hard. We are very proud of our defence of our penalty corners.”
Belgium skipper Thomas Briels rued his team’s missed chances. “It was a tough match and playing India at home is never easy. We could not convert our chances. There have been many times when PCs have saved us but today the Indian goalkeepers were outstanding and hopefully we can seek revenge tomorrow,” he said.
Quick off the block
The Indians were quick to get off the blocks with debutant Raj Kumar Pal setting up a fantastic goal within 90 seconds of play as he passed from the left flank to Dilpreet Singh on top of the circle. Young forward Dilpreet, making his comeback in the Indian squad after over a year, took a powerful shot on goal which found a perfect deflection from Mandeep Singh who was positioned in front of Belgian goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch.
It was Pathak who ensured Belgium did not bounce back. He was kept busy all of 15 minutes in the first quarter with Belgium creating plenty of opportunities which included as many as five penalty corners.
Belgium’s wait to convert a goal ended only in the third quarter when they made a good variation of a penalty corner, opening up the angle to trick India’s rushers and made enough space for Gauthier Boccard to put the ball past Pathak to level scores in the 33rd minute.
With scores reading 1-1, it was a tense final quarter but India pushed back Belgium by scoring another goal.
It was Ramandeep, who after injecting the ball during a penalty corner battery, picked up a rebound off Belgium’s first rusher to score the goal.
The victory was also India’s 50th win against Belgium.
The result: India 2 (Mandeep Singh 2, Ramadeep Singh 46-pc) bt Belgium (Gauthier Boccard 33-pc).