The Hague: In the end it came down to seconds; 44 seconds to be precise when Mandeep Singh had the ball with three Belgians on the half line. But instead of squeezing it onto the opponent's legs, he tried the dribble. The ball was lost and a perfect cross-dissected the Indian defence. John Dohmen, calm under pressure, tapped the ball past Indian goalkeeper PS Sreejesh. With 12 seconds on the clock, India had succumbed 2-3 their opening match of the Hockey World Cup being played at The Hague.
Indian coach Terry Walsh didn't waste time analyzing the defeat. "Belgium won the first half and we the second,? he said. "But an error gave the Belgians the points and we have to rebuild. These are early days in the tournament and we will do our best in the remaining matches."
Belgian coach Marc Lammers said, "India is playing at the top. I think they are a top six side and we were lucky to get away today and we are happy with the three points."
India's Raghunath Vokkaliga (right) tackles against Belgium's John-John Dohmen during their hockey World Cup opener on Saturday
Lammers probably didn't say that their first half dominance should have yielded 2-3 goals but for the brilliance of the Indian goalkeeper Sreejesh. On four occasions, he saved the situation, confidently using the gloves and coming forward to thwart Belgian moves.
In the first half, India barely got a look at the Belgian goal. Their time on the field was spent playing defensive hockey though the European Championships runners-up should get credit for pushing the Indians back. The lead also came in the last minute of the first half when Florent Aubel was in the right position to deflect off a cross.
India came out of their shells in the second half. Sardar Singh played a pivotal role. He rolled the ball across the half line, using his skills as a defence but relaying when he got space to push the cross through. In the 45th minute, Mandeep came out of nowhere, a phantom in the Belgian striking circle to deflect in the ball and equalize scores. Five minutes later, Akashdeep Singh's hockey blade snicked the ball and suddenly India had the lead.
Belgium, seeded fifth in the world were under pressure. India felt it too. Seeded 8th in the tournament, they were leading against a top team. But the Belgians came in strong. In the 56th minute, Simon Gougnard scored the equalizer. But the Indians didn?t wilt. They could have snatched the lead except that Uthappa couldn't put his stick on the ball.
Minutes went away. Pressure was on both teams; and then the mistake from India with 45 seconds to go. Up in the stands, Roelant Oltmans, India?s high-performance director watching, threw up his hands much before the goal had been scored. He realized the outcome. Dohmen couldn?t believe as the Belgians celebrated his match-winning goal.
Indian captain Singh, was sad, but upbeat about the remaining games. "We are in the tournament," he said. "Let's concentrate on the remaining matches." The captain herded his bunch off to watch England play; India's next opponents.