It was a hockey match that was a spectators’ delight – coast-to-coast action something hockey lovers desire to see. And at the end of it, it was olympic and world champions Belgium who had the last laugh, sneaking past Olympic bronze medallists India by the odd goal in five to leapfrog to second spot in the Pro League points table. India clearly have made positive progress since losing 2-5 to the Red Lions in the 2021 Olympic semifinals and matched the hosts for most part of the match. A brilliant teamwork saw India open the scoring close to half-time – Lalit Upadhyay brought all his experience to bear and orchestrated a superb combined effort with Gurjant Singh that saw Abhishek put the ball in the Belgium goal – a goal that helped the Blueshirts gain the pyschological advantage of staying ahead at half-time.
Michel Van Den Heuvel’s pep talk at the interval helped Belgium as they roared back into contention when Nicolas De Kerpel unleashed a rasping shot even as he tumbled. It was anybody’s game with the scoreline reading 1-1 going into the final quarter. Champion drag-flicker Alexander Hendrickx whipped home a short corner to put the hosts ahead. He came into his goal-scoring act again with one minute left for the final hooter, converting a penalty stroke beating Sreejesh to his left with an aerial attenmpt – third time he has beaten the Indian goalkeeper in four stroke attempts in both games. And with about thirty seconds remaining, India triggered more excitement when former captain Manpreet Singh ran hard and sent it a precise pass to Vivek Sagar Prasad whose shot at the Belgium goal was deflected in by Mandeep Singh, who now has mastered the art of scoring last-moment goals. India was unlucky to make it 3-3 when Vivek Sagar Prasad slammed wide from close range.
India would play their concluding Pro League games against the Netherlands next week – they can hope to finish among the top three, and if results go in their favour they might be smiling big by winning the Pro League or finishing second. But it won’t be easy because the Dutch still have four more games to play.