Not everyone with impressive stats ends up a winner. If Belgium were at the receiving end on Saturday, India felt the frustration on Sunday as the world champions powered back to eke out a 3-2 victory over India. Not only in terms of possession, India also had more shots on goal with a higher number of circle penetrations. At the end of the second encounter between the World No 1 and No 4 sides in the Pro League — a match that saw some brilliant play punctuated with lazy turnovers and horrific defensive lapses — India had 12 shots on goal to Belgium’s 9; they had 28 circle penetrations to Belgium’s 19 and 3 PCs to their opponents' 1. In the end, Belgium’s better use of opportunities and some clear thinking gave them the edge.
In the first match on Saturday, India had stunned the World Champions 2-1. Before the match, Indian coach Graham Reid had said, Belgium would come at them like injured lions. “We need to create more opportunities,” he also said. His counterpart, Belgium’s coach Shane McLeod wanted his team to improve their standards.
Belgium made their intentions clear in the first minute itself when goalkeeper PR Sreejesh had to make two quick saves of Thomas Briels and Sebastien Dockier. The pressure led to Belgium taking the lead in the third minute off their first PC. Alexander Hendrickx's flick zipped through the gap between Surender Kumar and the left post. It was a perfect start and one wouldn’t have doubted that the World Champions would apply the pressure and squeeze the Indians. India held out as the Belgians swarmed the Indian half and held sway in the midfield.
Off a counterattack, Indian captain Manpreet Singh put a through ball in that evaded both Lalit and Vivek Prasad. India played aggressive hockey in the last five minutes of the first quarter. Hardly ten seconds were left on the clock, when Surender slipped through on the left flank, shielded the ball, running on the goal-line, dribbling past John-John Dohmen and Arthur de Sloover before slipping it into the striking circle where Vivek Prasad slammed it into the goal. India had the equaliser.
Within 90 seconds of the second quarter starting, Belgium snatched the lead back. Arthur van Doren gave a lovely ball to Simon Gougnard who set it up for Nicolas de Kerpel to give Belgium a 2-1 lead. In the very next minute, India had the equaliser when they scored off their first penalty corner. Harmanpreet Singh’s flick rebounded as Vivek Prasad saw his shot saved. But the rebound fell towards Amit Rohidas who didn’t make a mistake with his hit. Within 17 minutes of the match, the score-line read 2-2.
Then came the howler from Harmanpreet. It also came at a stage when India were challenging with the ball and utilising the space well. They already had more shots on goal in the second Quarter. Belgium were being forced back a little, their midfield slightly exposed. It was that moment in a match when everyone is spread out. There is no pressure. Harmanpreet was sending the ball upfield but only succeeded in giving it to de Kerpel, right in the middle of the field. There was only one Indian defender at the back. Kerpel sped in, drew the defender out and gave the ball to an overlapping Maxime Plennevaux who slapped the ball past the Indian goalkeeper Krishan Pathak. With four minutes left in the second Quarter, Belgium had snatched the lead back 3-2.
India had two chances in the opening minutes of the third quarter. It was followed by India’s second PC which Amit Rohidas flicked straight onto the Belgium goalkeeper’s pads. At the other end, Sreejesh saved two chances off the Belgians. India also had a third PC, but the stop was messed up as Belgium countered within seconds and Sreejesh came off the line to effect a brilliant save as Antoine Kina almost sidestepped him.
Even though the Belgians led 3-2, mistakes from both sides were on the rise. Some lazy play from India and Belgium saw turnovers leading to counters. In the fourth Quarter, Mandeep and Manpreet played the ball before setting up Gurjant who failed to fire past Van Doren. In the last five minutes of the match, Belgium beefed up the midfield and defence, not allowing too much movement from India.
With two minutes left, Augustin Meurmans was shown the card. But India couldn’t push through a ten-man Belgium. Even though India enjoyed possession, overall, their play was sloppy. If there was a silver lining to India’s performance, it was that they conceded only one PC to Belgium; that in a way was the highlight of their performance. Yet, they could have found an equaliser as in the fourth quarter, India had 10 circle entries to two for Belgium with a possession of almost 60 percent.
Belgian coach Shane McLeod said that India played better than in the first match. “Both teams had a desire to win,” he said. “I think we set the pace and the players were more focused. We had some good elements.”
Indian coach Graham Reid did agree with Shane saying, “Today’s performance was much better.” Reid also said, “We gifted them two goals and we also didn’t possess the ball much. I think we would need a little more composure in the circle.”
Reid praised Raj Kumar Pal saying the young lad showed good composure and stood up to it.
Belgium are on top of the table with 14 points from six matches with India second with eight points from four. India host Australia on 21 and 22 February next. Reid believes it will be a tactical game. Australia combine pace with some good thought process. After four matches in the Pro League, one can see progress as Indian captain Manpreet Singh points out. “We are learning a lot,” he said.
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Updated Date: Feb 10, 2020 12:07:38 IST