India captain Sardar Singh said conceding two soft goals early in the semifinal against Belgium proved disastrous for India in the Hockey World League Semifinals at the KHC Stadium in Antwerp, Belgium on Friday.
India suffered a 4-0 defeat at the hands of the higher-ranked Belgians, but the contest became a one-way street when India were not able to negate the lead conceded through soft early goals, said Sardar.
"Recent contests between India and Belgium have always been close, but today (Friday), the early soft goals we conceded built enormous pressure," said Sardar, who could be repeatedly heard urging his teammates to put in some more effort whenever they lost the ball.
"They were expected to come out strongly looking for early goals, but we erred in giving away two soft goals at the start," said Sardar.
A lapse by Jasjit Singh in controlling the ball on top of the circle in the second minute led to Belgium opening the account early. As Jasjit lost the bouncy ball, Felix Denayer picked it up on the right flank and sent a square pass for striker Florent van Aubel to score with a firm reverse shot.
Van Aubel scored two more goals in the second half on penalty corner rebounds to seal the big Belgian victory. Tanguy Cosyns made it 2-0 in the eighth minute on a penalty corner rebound from goalkeeper PR Sreejesh.
"Perhaps, the nerves played a role in those soft goals," said Sardar.
India tried to forced their way back in the third quarter, but could not capitalise on the openings, including two penalty corners that came during this period. Rupinder Pal Singh, playing his first extended game for India in the tournament after an injury in warm-up games, shot marginally wide of the post on both sides.
"We did well to earn ball possession in the second half, but could not make the chances count," said Sardar. "We need to learn to be strong in converting the chances."
India had beaten Belgium in the quarterfinals of the Champions Trophy in Bhubaneswar when the two teams last met.
India have another chance to win a medal in Antwerp, in the bronze medal game against Great Britain on Sunday.
All four semifinalists from this World League Semifinals are secured passage to the 2016 Olympics, with India's qualification assured from their Asian Games gold medal in Incheon.