Hockey World Cup 2018: We knew an equaliser would make the difference - coach Harendra Singh

We knew that once we score an equaliser then things will be in our control: Harendra Singh on India-Belgium World Cup match.

other sports Updated: Dec 02, 2018 22:14 IST
Sandip Sikdar
Sandip Sikdar
Hindustan Times, Bhubaneswar
Indian hockey team,Belgium hockey team,Varun Kumar
India drew 2-2 with Belgium at the Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar on Sunday.(PTI)

It was as if two different Indian teams turned up for the World Cup game against Belgium. The first seemed timid, under pressure and not able to display its skill set against a dominant team. The other was fierce, fast and played attacking hockey from the time the umpire blew the whistle.

That was precisely the story for India as world number three Belgium held the hosts to a 2-2 draw in a cracker of a game. By virtue of Sunday’s result, India continue to top Pool C and have a foot in the quarterfinal unless the Rio Olympics silver medallists demolish South Africa by a huge margin next weekend.

Belgium silenced the 15,000-strong crowd at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar with an eighth minute penalty corner conversion by Alexander Hendrickx. It wasn’t until the 39th minute that Harmanpreet Singh equalised via a stroke as India doubled the lead with a cheeky goal by Simranjeet Singh, his third this tournament. Simon Gougnard’s 56th minute field goal levelled the scoreline which stayed until the final hooter.

“Belgium had more attacks in the first quarter and there were lapses on our side. After that we made some changes and it paid off. We knew that once we pull an equaliser then things will be in our control and the public support will play an important role then. The same happened and we took the lead,” said India coach Harendra Singh.

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But the world number 5 team began in poor fashion as nothing was working for them. Belgium was dominating the contest, maintained possession (61% in first half) and looked dangerous. This helped Belgium as the Indian forward line failed to convert the half chances, be it Mandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh or Dilpreet Singh, who had a day to forget with woeful performances.

The Red Lions earned three back-to-back short corners, the final of which was converted as Hendrickx’s grounded flick passed between India ‘keeper PR Sreejesh’s legs.

Despite several lapses and quite a few chances for the Europeans, India somehow managed to maintain the scoreline till half-time.

Maybe it was coach Harendra Singh’s pep talk or realising the significance of the game, a very different India stepped out in the second half. All of a sudden, the hosts looked in-charge which helped them earn two penalty corners but both were saved by reigning FIH goalkeeper of the year Vincent Vanasch, one with his stick too!

However, the second gave way to a stroke with Harmanpreet finally converting to the delight of the crowd. The stadium roared again and India found another goal as Kothajit Singh developed a brilliant ball which only needed Simranjeet’s touch to put the hosts ahead for the first time.

In desperate need of a goal, Belgium exchanged their keeper with a field player with five minutes left. The trick worked as some brilliant team play helped Gougnard level the contest and make sure the Belgians didn’t lose to India for a third time in a row in Bhubaneswar after 2014 and 2017.

“India fought back well after trailing 0-1. After equalising they dominated proceedings and attacked more. We made some mistakes and they capitalised on them,” said Belgian forward Cedric Charlier.

India next play Canada on Saturday. “The advantage with us is that we are playing the last match of the pool and before that game the entire situation regarding the goal difference will be clear. So, we can plan our strategy accordingly against Canada,” said India coach Harendra Singh.

First Published: Dec 02, 2018 22:07 IST