Goalkeepers Krishan Pathak and PR Sreejesh came up with inspired performances and the Indian strikers managed to find the back of Belgium net twice against the run of play to upset the world champions 2-1 in the FIH Pro Hockey league encounter in Bhubaneshwar on Saturday.
Mandeep Singh (2nd minute) and Ramandeep Singh (46th) scored for the hosts while Gauthier Boccard (33rd) found the consolation goal for the visitors.
This was India’s third straight win in the Pro League, after having defeated Netherlands in the first two matches at the same venue in their first appearance in the competition.
India coach Graham Reid made half a dozen changes to the squad that defeated Netherlands in their opening FIH Pro League clash and it looked like experimentation might backfire when the visitors launched an attack from the right in the very first minute.
But it was hosts who drew first blood a second later with a counter attack from the left flank. Dilpreet Singh received the ball on the top of the striking circle and unleashed a shot which was deflected in by Mandeep Singh past goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch.
It was the only shot on goal for the Indians in the entire first half as Belgium kept position and continued to raid the Indian citadel from both flanks. But goalkeepers Pathak in the first quarter, and the experienced Sreejesh in the second, made a total of dozen saves to keep the world champions at bay till the half-way mark.
Belgium got four back-to-back penalty corners in the third minute but Pathak parried all of them. The custodian was forced into making a breathtaking save at the end of the first quarter when he denied Tanguy Cosyns with a body block and then parried the subsequent penalty corner over the crossbar.
The visitors continued to pound the Indian goal in the second quarter and this time they had to content with Sreejesh standing strong in the goal.
It was only in the last few minutes of the second quarter that India finally got a chance to test the Belgian custodian. There first move from the right was well intercepted by Vanasch while Ramandeep Singh didn’t get a chance to take a shot to complete a fine Gurjant Singh run from the left thanks to an alert defence.
The visitors, however, resorted parity within minutes after half time, despite Florent van Aubel missing a simple chance immediately after the restart. Boccard made no mistake in flicking the ball to the left hand corner of Pathak after the Belgian used a variation on the first penalty corner of the third quarter.
India did well to hang on and not concede any more goals in the remaining 12 minutes and they were duly rewarded for their tenacity within minute of the start of the fourth quarter as Ramandeep tapped in the rebound following a drag flick from Harmanpreet Singh.
Belgium kept coming in waves looking for an equaliser, and when Dilpreet was given the green card with two-and-a-half minutes to play, they would have fancied their chances. But the Indian defence stood strong through the length of the game and Sreejesh was once again alert to the threat as he pushed away a low dragflick in what was Belgium’s 12th penalty corner in the dying minutes of the match to kick off celebrations in the India camp.