Hockey World Cup: Vertical victory for India as they draw with Belgium
Indians switch from ground play to long aerial balls and almost conquer mighty Belgium; come away with 2- 2draw to top pool
After frustratingly chasing Belgium for a good half an hour ( first two quarters), India’s vertical ploy saw them nearly slay the ‘ Belgiants’ in a World Cup league match at the Kalinga Stadium here yesterday. The match ended 2- 2, but there were clearly more positives for the World No. 5 hosts, who woke up late against the World No. 3 visitors.
Rio Olympics silver medallists, Belgium went ahead in the eighth minute through a grounded penalty corner conversion by drag flicker Alexander Hendrickx. The Red Lions then ran riot in the Indian half, with the hosts playing catch up and making unforced errors galore — faulty trapping, incorrect passing and losing the ball – as the Indians entered half- time 0- 1 down. India’s analytical coach Chris Ciriello said that the Indians were “ shell shocked” in the first half.
However, everything changed in the third quarter. The Indians smartly stationed two forwards — Mandeep Singh and Dilpreet Singh - on either side of the baseline at the edge of the Belgium striking circle and began putting long aerial balls to them.
The ground ball- playing Belgians were suddenly caught unawares.
Time and again, Dilpreet, Mandeep Sigh and Lalit Upadhyay received long aerial balls inside the Belgian striking circle, but somehow failed to convert. Finally, one long ball by Harmanpreet Singh found Nilakanta Singh near the baseline and he worked his way in to earn a penalty corner.
Varun Kumar’s drag flick struck Belgium’s Arthur de Sloover’s foot on the goalline leading to a penalty stroke. Harmanpreet Singh made no mistake ( 39th minute) and India were back in the game. The hosts then went up 2- 1, when Nilakanta again moved in from the left side of the Belgian baseline and essayed a cross which Simranjeet Singh tapped in ( 47th minute) for his third goal of the tournament. The Belgians however, refused to throw in the towel and instead, with five minutes to go, replaced their goalkeeper to go in with an extra outfield player, bolstering their attack. Under sustained pressure, the Indian defence finally wilted, and a Simon Gougnard slap shot saw the visitors restore parity with four minutes remaining.
Coach Harendra Singh explained the vertical plan: “ The baseline is very close to the goal. If you see the penalty corner we got, it was when Harmanpreet sent in a very good long aerial ball [ beating the Belgium attackers in front of him]. We have worked on this.
Our defenders can throw long aerial balls on the run and that can surprise our opponents.” Belgian’s Tom Boon admitted that they were surprised by the Indians’ resurgence in the third quarter. “ India came back strongly in the third quarter and that put us on the back foot,” said Boon.
No. of goals scored by Simranjeet Singh in first two World Cup games
Sign up for all the latest news, top galleries and trending videos from Mid-day.comSubscribe