India survived a second half onslaught from a desperate Belgium thanks to an exceptional performance from goalkeeper PR Sreejesh to salvage a point with a 1-1 draw in the FIH Men’s Hockey Champions Trophy 2018 at Breda, Netherlands, on Thursday.
Having suffered their first loss of the tournament against Australia, India needed a positive result to stay in contention for the final spot and it looked like they would somehow scrape through after taking the lead in the 10th minute from Harmanpreet Singh’s fine penalty corner conversion and holding on to it for 48 minutes despite the mounting pressure from their opponents.
But Loick Luypaert finally managed to breach Sreejesh’s defence after failing nine times through a penalty corner in the 59th minute to restore parity. The result means that India go back on the top of the table with seven points but only for a brief while as Australia (7 points) and Netherlands (6 points) play in the last match of the day.
But even the one point would not have not been possible if not for an excellent performance from Sreejesh under the bar, who came up with almost a dozen saves in the second half as Belgium looked for their first win in the tournament.
India’s problem with a slow start continued for the fourth straight game and goalkeeper PR Sreejesh had to to make three saves in first three minutes, including one from a penalty corner.
But the Indians turned on the heat in style thereafter and Mandeep Singh could have put the last edition’s finalist ahead in the ninth minute when he collected a well-directed through ball inside the box. But his flick hit the bar after the Belgium custodian got a faint touch to deflect it.
But the Indians had to wait for just two minutes to take the lead as Harmanpreet Singh converted a penalty corner with a dragflick down the middle.
The second quarter was no different with Belgium making a few good runs in the first few minutes and earning a penalty corner. But thereafter, India were clearly the dominant side attacking from both flanks and even earned three penalty corners but could not find another goal.
And it looked like the Indian midfield had gone off to sleep in the third quarter as Belgium controlled the proceedings rather easily and even earned a couple of penalty corners.
They would have to thank Amit Rohidas for a timely intervention in the 40th minute when Thomas Briels was allowed to easily enter the striking circle – his cross would have easily found Sebastian Dockier, if not for Rohidas.
The whole team was then caught napping four minutes later when they thought that Mandeep had found the second goal. But the referee had whistled for a foul and Belgium quickly took a free hit. Florent van Aubel had only Sreejesh to beat but his hit went straight into the goalkeeper’s pads to the relief of the Indian bench.
Sreejesh was once again the saviour at the start of the final quarter as Belgium’s patient build up almost fetched them a goal, only for the Indian custodian to palm off John-John Dohmen’s shot from well inside the striking circle.
Belgium continued to accelerate and the Indians looked bereft of ideas as they conceded over half a dozen penalty corners in the second half only to be bailed out by Sreejesh and some ordinary shooting from the drag flickers.
But for all the pressure Belgium created, it looked like they would have nothing to show in the final analysis with Dohmen’s deflection following a penalty corner save could only find the goalpost in the 56th minute.
The Rio Olympics silver medallists finally found the equaliser two minutes from time when Loick Luypaert converted their 11th penalty corner two minutes from the final hooter. The defender got another attempt to find a winner but his drag-flick was once again stopped by Sreejesh.
Pakistan upset Argentina 4-1
In the day’s earlier game, Pakistan registered their first win of the tournament when they upset Olympic champions Argentina 4-1.
Muhammad Irfan Jr drew first blood for Pakistan in the 10th minute but Argentina’s Matias Paredes restored parity with just one minute left for half time.
If Argentina was hoping to build on that momentum after the change of ends, their hopes were quickly dashed as Pakistan held their own in defence and took the lead in the 47th minute thanks to a penalty corner conversion through Mubashar Ali.
They doubled that lead two minutes later through Ajaz Ahmad before Muhammad Bilal converted a penalty stroke two minutes from the final hooter to complete the scoreline.