BHUBANESWAR: Belgium skipper captain Thomas Briels, on match eve, had admitted that it was hard to play India in their backyard thanks to the boisterous crowd. He wasn't wrong. No sooner had the Indian national anthem ended than the capacity crowd at the Kalinga stadium ratcheted up the cheering even as 'Jai Ho' played in the background.
The Red Lions though, appeared to have come prepared and it took a mere eight minutes for them to do that as Alexander Hendrickx's goal off the third penalty corner led to pin-drop silence in the stadium. But the crowd did not take long to recover and rally behind Manpreet Singh and his men, who took a 2-1 lead before conceding a 56th-minute goal to allow Belgium to walk away with a draw in a pulsating encounter.While Harmanpreet Singh (39th minute) scored the equaliser for India, Simranjeet Singh (47th minute) put the team ahead before Simon Goungnard cancelled India's advantage.
While both teams battled hard, the Harendra Singh coached side deserved to be appreciated for its performance in the second half of the contest, especially after being down 0-1.
The Belgians, known for their stout defence, came out in full force early in the game, opting to play full press right from the go. Their game plan was clear and they wanted to push for penalty corners early. They earned a penalty corner in the first minute. After another unsuccessful attempt, they found target off the third.
Indian's seasoned goalkeeper PR Sreejesh blew hot and cold on the day and the opposition looked to score off the right which isn't his best. Hendrickx sent the ball between the keepers' leg with a power-packed grounder.
If the Belgians were at their best, the men in blue looked in disarray as they chased the ball without an objective. Briels and his men, on the other hand, attacked from the centre. The fact that Belgium enjoyed 66% possession and three penalty corners in the first quarter against India's 57.14% outlined the difference.
THE HALF-TIME EFFECTThe Indians were a different side when they came back from the break. After the first two penalty corners were wasted, Varun took the third and his drag flick had Arthur de Sloover obstructing the ball. Rewarded with a penalty stroke, India called in Harmanpreet Singh, who put the ball away on the right past Belgian goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch. In the fourth quarter, India continued to attack relentlessly, using the aerial ball well. They found success in the 47th minute. Moving in from inside the 25-yard line, Kothajit Singh dodged past the Belgians and found Simranjeet behind a defender and the striker made no mistake in finding the net. India could have held on to the lead but with less than five minutes to go, a desperate Belgian side brought in Loick Luypaert as the kicking-back in place of goalkeeper Vanasch and Goungnard sealed the equaliser with the ball escaping between Sreejesh's pads.