Breda, Netherlands: World No. 3 Belgium stretched the Indian men`s hockey team till the final minutes of the match to split the points with a 1-1 draw in a thrilling encounter at the Rabobank Men`s Hockey Champions Trophy Breda 2018 here on Thursday. India made too many slip-ups in their defence that gave away five penalty corners (PCs) in the last quarter, eventually messing up their 1-0 lead as Loick Luypert (59`) converted Belgium`s 10th attempt at a PC to equalise.
Harmanpreet Singh (10`) was India`s lone goal scorer that put Belgium on the back foot right at the start. Sitting at the bottom of the pool table, Belgium were desperate for a win and they began with that very intent, playing aggressive and attacking hockey.
If not for an early save by India`s ace goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh off Cedric Charlier in the opening minute, Belgium would have well been ahead by a goal. But that did not dent Belgium`s pursuit as they continued to keep possession and even won the first PC of the match after the ball hit Jarmanpreet Singh`s foot.
The chance was wasted though. India, meanwhile, built on their momentum steadily but tactfully. The effort helped win a PC. Though the first attempt by drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh resulted in another PC being awarded, the chance was capitalised by the 22-year-old when he powerfully flicked it past Belgium goalkeeper to take a 1-0 lead in the 10th minute.
India continued into the second quarter with the same intensity, but the pressure in defending right resulted in an infringement, conceding a second PC. Sreejesh continued to be India`s strong wall of defence at the post, denying Belgium an equaliser.
Both India and Belgium traded PCs in the following minutes, though neither made hay of the opportunities. India looked like a better team, building on their counter attacks and making forays into the striking circle but a field goal remained elusive.
India had made 17 circle entries in the second quarter with 11 shots on goals and five PCs as opposed to Belgium`s 10 circle entries with ten shots on goal and three PCs.
Belgium made an encouraging start to the third quarter, winning a PC in the 33rd minute but the effort was well defended by India. India gave away two more PCs this quarter, but Surender Kumar and Sreejesh were up to the task to keep India`s narrow lead intact.
Tom Boon`s attempt off Belgium`s 6th PC was on target, but Sreejesh made an exceptional save. A goal for India could have given the team a breather in the third quarter, but it was not to be as the umpire disallowed Mandeep`s goal.
Belgium were too quick to take off from the free hit before India could even think of a video referral. Ahead only by a goal, the final quarter was tense as Belgium began yet again with two back-to-back PC, but India defended well to steer clear.
The ball, however, was largely controlled by the Belgians as they pushed for gaps in Indian defence. With a little over six minutes to go, S.V. Sunil called for a video referral asking for a foot of the Belgian defender which resulted in India being awarded their 6th PC of the match.
The PC hit the umpire before Belgium could launch a counter attack, as they created their 9th PC of the match. Sreejesh once again rescued India from an equaliser but the action continued as Belgium attacked with all guns firing and sloppy defending on India`s part gave away Belgium their 10th PC of the match.
And this time, Loick Luypert kept it low to flick it towards Sreejesh`s right for a perfect equaliser in the 59th minute. Belgium push for a winning goal ended up with yet another PC with just 32 seconds to go for the final hooter.
Sreejesh made a good save once again to end the match with a 1-1 draw to keep India`s hopes alive for a place in the final with a must-win match against the hosts on Saturday.