India produced a spirited perfomance to upstage world no 3 Belgium 5-4 in its second match of the Four Nations Invitational Tournament’s second leg at Hamilton on Wednesday. India had earlier lost 1-2 to Belgium in the final of the first leg but held their nerve till the final hooter to come up with a winner in what was a high-tempo contest that produced nine goals.
Rupinder Pal Singh (4’, 42’), Harmanpreet Singh (46’), Lalit Upadhyay (53’) and Dilpreet Singh (59’) scored in India’s win while John-John Dohmen (17’), Felix Denayer (37’), Alexander Hendrickx (45’) and Tom Boon (56’) scored for Belgium.
Sjoerd Marijne’s side began the match with a disciplined structure, playing two-touch hockey to rotate the ball swiftly into Belgium’s striking circle. The effort paid off early when Vivek Sagar Prasad made a quick penetration from the left flank, forcing a foul which resulted in the first penalty corner of the match.
It was in-form Rupinder Pal Singh who stepped up for the drag flick, improvising on Lalit Upadhyay’s injection to fiercely put the ball into the top corner of the net. The early 1-0 lead put the Belgians on the backfoot but they came back in the second quarter with a potent attack that put pressure on the Indian defence.
A top of the circle penetration by Dohmen caught defender Varun Kumar off-guard, as he positioned himself comfortably to take a successful reverse hit to level scores.
The dangerous Boon took a penalty corner but was brilliantly saved by Sreejesh, who plunged to his left to snuff it away. With seconds remaining for the second hooter, India won a PC but Rupinder’s flick, this time went wide, ending the second quarter in a stalemate.
The match took a dramatic turn in the third quarter, with both teams displaying top quality skills to take the lead. It was Belgium who forced a foul in the Indian circle to win a PC in the 37th minute.
With a runner missing on the baseline, as they broke too early before the flick, Belgium tried a variation that worked with Felix nudging the ball into the post that put Belgium in the lead.
Minutes later, a defensive error in their circle saw Belgium give away a PC which was superbly struck by Rupinder in the similar fashion that he scored earlier fetching India the much-needed 2-2 equalizer in the 42nd minute.
Though India were resilient in their defence, an attempt to stop the Belgian forward in the baseline saw India concede a PC with just 43 seconds remaining for the third hooter.
Despite the drag flick saved by Sreejesh, Belgium kept the ball with Dohmen nudging it to Alexander Hendrickx, who found the gap to give Belgium a 3-2 lead. With both teams unrelenting in their efforts, the final quarter was nerve-wracking as India came back from the break pressing Belgium high up.
India won a PC on the counter attack, and this time though Rupinder’s drag flick was saved by the Belgian goal keeper Vincent Vanasch, the rebound landed at Harmanpreet Singh, who whipped it past to make it 3-3.
Belgium defence was punished when Vivek Prasad came up with brilliant stick work to dribble past Belgian defenders to find Lalit unmanned in front of the post.
A perfectly timed deflection by Lalit put India in 4-3 lead in the 53rd minute. Under pressure to keep the lead, India fumbled in the circle to concede a PC with less than five minutes for the final hooter, and the error was punished by Boon, who was fierce in his attempt to fetch his team a 4-4 equaliser.
With clock ticking away, both teams searched for a winner and Sreejesh made a brilliant save to stop Cedric Charlier from scoring.
Seconds later, Indian forward Ramandeep Singh found himself making an ambitious circle entry from the top, turning around to beat a Belgian defender, striking the ball towards the post. With Dilpreet Singh lurking around unmanned, it was another perfectly timed deflection by him handed India a win with one minute on the clock.
On January 27, India will take on Japan in their third match.