Indian men's hockey team fired in a goal two minutes from the final hooter through Ramandeep Singh to pull off a 3-2 win over France and begin their FIH World League Semifinals campaign on a winning note here on Saturday.
Ramandeep lunged forward to slam the ball into the France net in the 58th minute courtesy the spadework of captain Sardar Singh to clinch the victory for India at the KHC Dragons Stadium here.
Asian Games champions India's defence was given a harrowing time by the fast overlapping French strikers, who capitalised on counters to stun them twice.
Olivier Sanchez (third minute) and Simon Martin Brisac (43rd) lifted the French team through flash strikes and India scored twice in the space of four minutes through Manpreet Singh (26th) and Devindar Walmiki (29th) to come to level terms.
The game was heading for a draw when captain Sardar sent in a reverse hit into the circle where Akashdeep Singh stopped it and the ball went toward the right where Ramandeep made no mistake with the opportunity in the 58th minute.
France stunned the Indians with an early goal in the third minute with unmarked striker Oliver Sanchez firing in from close range after getting the ball from the left in an otherwise crowded circle.
Indian striker Satbir Singh shot wide off the target at the other end and the story of mis-passing and wayward shooting thereafter gave France the lead at the end of the first quarter.
The French had another good look at the Indian goal in the 22nd minute on a counter-attack as Brisac created the opening by charging into the scoring zone, where Sanchez failed to capitalise on another chance off custodian PR Sreejesh's pads.
'Relaxed' team to try out new things
Under the stewardship of new chief coach Paul van Ass, the Indian men's team has the rare luxury of trying out new strategies in a major international event.
India are already assured of a place in next year's Rio Olympics.
The Hockey World League (HWL) Semifinals in Antwerp, hosting its first major international hockey tournament since the 1920 Olympics, offers direct entry to the 2016 Olympics for three teams each in the men and women's competitions.
The Indian men's team is the only one in this tournament, which includes reigning World Champions Australia besides former Olympic champions Pakistan and Great Britain, to have already secured its passage to Rio by virtue of winning the gold medal at the Incheon Asian Games last year.
Prior to the start of the tournament, Van Ass acknowledged that India were now able to match the pace set by the rivals, but his wards needed to bolster their ability of setting the pace to suit their game plan.
"When fit enough, the Indian players are quite good when the rivals make the pace of the contest, but they need to learn to dictate the flow of the contest," said Van Ass, who took charge of the Indian team two months ago ahead of the Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia, where the team won the bronze medal.
"We need to be much better in making the speed of the game," said the Dutchman, adding that the team also needed to be more coordinated when defending its own goal.
"Defending as a group is important. It is a structure story about getting the angles right."