Last-minute blues: India go down 1-2 to Belgium
Mandeep Singh (25th) scored the lone goal for India while Thibeau Stockbroekx (18th) and Nelson Onana (60th) put the ball in for the Europeans
Craig Fulton’s era as the new chief coach of the Indian men’s hockey team began with a 1-2 last-minute loss to his former team Belgium as the Harmanpreet Singh-led outfit resumed Pro League duties after two months.
While India went into the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre in London with an almost full-strength squad, reigning Olympic champions Belgium fielded a mix of youth and experience with nine of the 18 having played less than 15 international matches.
Despite that, India were not able to break through the rock-solid defence of the world No.2 outfit – barring one instance – to suffer their second loss of the 2022-23 Pro League season out of nine games. India still remain atop the nine-team standings with 19 points.
Mandeep Singh (25th) scored the lone goal for India while Thibeau Stockbroekx (18th) and Nelson Onana (60th) put the ball in for the Europeans.
India seemed to resonate new coach Fulton’s — who was Belgium's assistant coach from 2018 to 2023 — philosophy of ‘defend to win’ as they dug deep and attacked selectively but even an inexperienced Belgium managed to control the game better and find a couple of loopholes which were enough to create penalty corner (PC) chances and convert them.
Kicking off the European swing, India commenced confidently, creating early opportunities. Vice-captain Hardik Singh played an important role in the attack, fetching some early shots on goal from the top of the striking circle. But Belgian goalkeeper Loic van Doren was impressive in the post.
Belgium created chances at the end of the first half but India's first rusher Amit Rohidas warded off the attacks.
Three minutes into the second quarter, Belgium broke the deadlock via another PC. Though PR Sreejesh made a brilliant save off the drag-flick from Player of the Match Loick Luypart, it rebounded to the drag-flicker whose second shot was deflected in brilliantly by Stockbroekx.
India bounced back when Vivek Sagar Prasad earned a PC. Though Harmanpreet’s flick bounced off, lurking around the post, Mandeep tapped the ball in to equalise for the World No. 4 side.
While India continued to defend in the second half, their attack slowed down with Belgium adapting to full press. The final two minutes remained tense but Belgium came through with a lead when they created a PC with seconds left for the final hooter. It didn't help that India in their effort to defend gave away a few extra PCs that cost them dear. It was Onana, playing only his sixth match, who scored from a rebound to secure a win for Belgium.
India will have to bounce against hosts Great Britain who they play next on Saturday.
- Indian Hockey Team