The Indian Men's Hockey Team lost to Belgium 1-2 in a hard-fought encounter in the FIH Hockey Pro League 2022-23, Europe leg which commenced today at the Lee Valley Stadium in London. Seasoned striker Mandeep Singh scored India's lone goal while Thibeau Stockbroekx (18') and Nelson Onana (60+) scored a goal each in Belgium's victory.
Kicking off the overseas campaign, India produced a confident start in the first quarter, creating early opportunities. Vice Captain Hardik Singh played a key role in India's attack, fetching an early shot on goal from the top of the D and shaking off the nervousness of playing against the World Cup runners-up and reigning Olympic Champions. However, Belgium's goalie Loic Van Doren was impressive in the goalpost, whisking away India's hopes of early goal.
The next few minutes of the first quarter saw Belgium drop the pace of the game, cautiously rotated the ball and controlled the play. With 20 seconds left for the first hooter, Belgium who had kept the ball possession for the most part, saw Victor Wegnez create a PC. But Loick Luypaert's drag-flick was stopped by India's first rusher Amit Rohidas, warding off an early setback.
Three minutes into the second quarter, Belgium managed to break the deadlock as they created yet another penalty corner. This time, though Sreejesh made two brilliant saves off the drag-flick from Luypaert, Belgium kept the ball on the rebound only to create a clever set play within the D to beat Sreejesh. It was Thibeau Stockbroekx who picked up a good assist to loft the ball into the net.
Not letting the goal put them under the pump, India bounced back when Vivek Sagar Prasad earned his team their first PC in the 25th minute of the game. Though Harmanpreet picked up a powerful drag-flick, the ball bounced off Belgium's defender on the line of the goal. Mandeep Singh, lurking around the post picked up the rebound, and produced a fine finish to equalize. This was Mandeep's 98th international goal.
With the scoreboard reading 1-1 at halftime, the two teams came off the ten-minute break with a fresh intent to register a lead. Within the first five minutes, both teams traded PCs but neither were successful in their attempts. Though Belgium had another opportunity, just seconds before the hooter went off, they could not convert.
Continuing to be in a gridlock, the match came down to the wire with both teams vying for that elusive goal. Four minutes into the quarter, Belgium managed a PC while trying to drive into the left flank. But Sreejesh was excellent in the post to make fine save. He continued to produce some mouth-watering saves that kept Belgium in the hunt.
While India continued to defend with all their heart, their attack was slowed down with Belgium adapting to full press. The final two minutes of the game 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 dearly. It was newcomer Nelson Onana who scored from a rebound coming off a PC and securing a win for his team.
India will next take on hosts Great Britain on Saturday 27 May 2023. (ANI)