FIH Hockey Pro League: Aggressive India hold their nerves to beat World No.1 Belgium 2-1
Bhubaneswar: Aggressive play by Indian Men’s Hockey Team ensured they beat World No.1 Belgium 2-1 in a thrilling encounter to keep up their winning form in the FIH Hockey Pro League 2020. It was goals by Mandeep Singh (2′) and Ramandeep Singh (46′) that saw India gain the winning points against the World Champions here at the iconic Kalinga Hockey Stadium in Bhubaneswar on an overcast Saturday evening. With this sensational victory, India consolidated their World Ranking from No.5 to World No.4 for the first time since the World Ranking system was introduced in 2003.
After getting off to a rollicking start in their maiden FIH Hockey Pro League with a formidable 5-2 and (3-3) 3-1 win against the Netherlands, hosts India did well to halt the World Champions’ winning streak in the on-going FIH Hockey Pro League 2020. Coming into this match with (2-2) 4-2 and 4-2 win against Australia and a splendid 6-2 and 3-1 win against New Zealand, the World No.1 side struggled to convert their chances against India.
Despite dominating with ball possession, making as many as 38 circle entries, taking 24 shots on goal and 12 PCs, the Belgian unit could not muster much success in the circle, thanks to stand-out performance by Indian goalkeepers PR Sreejesh and Krishan Pathak who lived up to the billing hooter-to-hooter, backing India’s defence by knocking off pretty much every opportunity created by the Belgian strikers. Belgium Skipper Thomas Briels did not mince his words as he rued his team’s missed chances. He said, “It was a tough match and playing India at home is never easy. Too bad 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 for this loss tomorrow.”
India 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.
Although it was striker Mandeep Singh who put India ahead in the first quarter, it was Krishan Pathak who ensured Belgium did not bounce back. He was kept busy all 15 minutes in the first quarter with Belgium creating plenty of opportunities which included as many as five penalty corners. India almost threatened to double their lead in the 12th minute when Ramandeep Singh and Raj Kumar Pal teamed up in the circle but could not find success.
Belgium’s wait to convert a goal ended only in the third quarter when they made a good variation of a PC, opening up the angle to trick India’s rushers and made enough space for Gauthier Boccard to put the ball past Krishan Pathak to level scores in the 33rd minute. Even though India made a couple of PCs in the following minutes, they could not convert.
With scores reading 1-1, it was a tense final quarter but India pushed back Belgium by scoring another goal. It was Ramandeep Singh, who after injecting the ball during a PC battery, picked up a rebound off Belgium’s first rusher to score the goal. Though Belgium created PCs in the dying minutes of the match, India held their nerves and experienced goalkeeper Sreejesh ensured India sealed the game and earned the winning points to stay at the second position in the FIH Hockey Pro League points table. Belgium are still on top with 11 points from 5 games.
The victory is India’s 50th win against Belgium and the most memorable one as it has helped the team consolidate the position of World no.4 pushing defending Olympic Champions Argentina to No.5. http://www.fih.ch/rankings/outdoor/
This is the first time since the introduction of the FIH World Ranking system that India have attained the top 4 ranking in the world.
Goalkeeper Krishan Pathak was adjudged Odisha Player of the Match for his brave performance.
The Indian Men’s Hockey Team will take on Belgium on 9th February 2020 at 1700hrs on Sunday at the Kalinga Hockey Stadium.