A sensational effort by an experienced India India beat Olympic champions Belgium 5-4 in an FIH Hockey Pro League match on Saturday, with goalkeeper PR Sreejesh and attacking target in a thrilling shootout. It was a penalty stroke saved by Sreejesh from an effort by Nicolas de Kerpelle during the shootout that ensured India came out victorious, while Harmanpreet Singh, Abhishek, Lalit Upadhyay, Shamsher Singh and Akashdeep Singh converted for India.
Earlier during regulation time, the Indian men’s hockey team held their nerves to beat Belgium 3-3 in the final quarter and overcome a 1-3 deficit in a thrilling shootout.
Both teams lived up to the billing based on their hooter to hooter rivalry in a packed stadium.
Goals from Harmanpreet Singh (52′) and Jarmanpreet Singh (57) brought India back into the game in the fourth quarter after Shamsher Singh (18′) opened the scoreboard in the second quarter, while Cedric Charlier (21), current Simon Gaugnard (36) and Nicolas de Kerpel (51′) scored for the Olympic champions.
It was a high-voltage start to the match with both the teams breaking out of the blocks with aggression and pace in their attack. It was India who entered the striking circle with a successful penetration that saw them win their first PC of the match in the 5th minute itself. But Jugraj Singh’s effort was defended by a strong Belgian defense. Three minutes later, veteran forward Akashdeep Singh made a skilful start in the striking circle but his valiant field goal effort was off target.
India conceded a PC with only four minutes remaining for the first hooter due to a defensive error by young Jugraj Singh, trying to prevent a Belgian attacker from taking a possible shot on goal. However, a scintillating effort from Sreejesh, who took a low dive to prevent Tom Boon from converting, did a splendid job to keep the score at 0-0. The first quarter belonged to the veteran Indian goalkeeper who made another brilliant save in an effort by Alexander Hendrix on a PC.
Shamsher Singh finally broke the deadlock when he scored in the 18th minute with a rebound from Abhishek. Only three minutes later, Belgium displayed scintillating teamwork and a touch hockey prowess and leveled the score at 1-1, beating Sreejesh with a fine field goal to slice through the Indian circle.
Belgium rallied on home support as they built up the momentum in the third quarter to score a goal in the 36th minute, while India were unable to score with any of their attacking formation. Although he made excellent circle penetrations, he could not beat the Belgian goalkeeper who was bang on target.
But India launched a resilient attack moving towards the goals in the final quarter. Intentional breach by a Belgian defender when Manpreet Singh was forcing himself into the circle gave India a chance as he was awarded a penalty stroke. Harmanpreet converted the goal to 2-3 in the 52nd minute. After 7 minutes, a PC delivered to India started begging when Harmanpreet’s powerful flick was brilliantly saved by the Belgian keeper. India continued to create great chances but ultimately it was a brilliant PC battery, where Jugraj did a drag-flick, passed the ball to Jarmanpreet Singh, who scored with effort and ended 60 minutes at a 3-3 stalemate.
“It was a great collective effort on our part, and we kept fighting. they all World Champions and Olympic Champions; We didn’t take a second easy in the match and that’s how we stayed in the game. It was all about energy. Even yesterday, we can’t afford a single mistake against a team like Belgium, which has a lot of support here in Antwerp,” Sreejesh expressed after the win.