HAMILTON, New Zealand (IANS) — India avenged the Four Nations Invitational tournament's first leg final loss against Belgium by beating the Olympic silver medalists 5-4 in their second outing of the second leg at the Gallagher Hockey Stadium here Jan. 25.
India had earlier lost 1-2 to Belgium in the final of the first leg but held their nerve till the final hooter to come up with a winner in this high octane match.
Rupinder Pal Singh (4', 42'), Harmanpreet Singh (46'), Lalit Upadhyay (53') and Dilpreet Singh (59') scored for India, while John-John Dohmen (17'), Felix Denayer (37'), Alexander Hendrickx (45') and Tom Boon (56') scored for Belgium.
India's ploy to play two-touch hockey by rotating the ball swiftly paid off as early as the fourth minute when Vivek Sagar Prasad made a quick penetration from the left flank forcing a Belgian defender to foul which resulted in the first penalty corner (PC) of the match. In-form Rupider improvised on Lalit Upadhyay's injection to fiercely put the ball into the top net giving India the early 1-0 lead.
But the world-class Belgian side came back into the second quarter with potent attack that put pressure on the Indian defense. A top of the circle penetration by John-John Dohmen caught defender Varun Kumar off-guard, as he positioned himself comfortably to take a successful reverse hit levelling the score 1-1.
A PC won by Belgium in the 24th minute saw dangerous Tom Boon take the flick but was brilliantly saved by goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh who plunged to his left to snuff it away. With seconds remaining for the second hooter, India won a PC but Rupinder's flick this time went wide ending the second quarter in a stalemate.
The third quarter started with Belgium forcing a foul in the Indian circle and win a PC in the 37th minute. With a runner missing on the baseline, as they broke too early before the flick, Belgium tried a variation that worked with Felix nudging the ball into the post to give Belgium a 2-1 lead.
Minutes later, a defensive error in their circle saw Belgium give away a PC which was superbly struck by Rupinder fetching India the much-needed 2-2 equalizer in the 42nd minute.
Though India were resilient in their defense, an attempt to stop the Belgian forward in the baseline saw India concede a PC with just 43 seconds remaining for the third hooter. Despite the drag flick being effectively saved by Sreejesh, Belgium kept the ball with Dohmen nudging it to Alexander Hendrickx who found the gap only to win Belgium the 3-2 lead.
The final quarter started with India earning a PC on the counter attack, and this time though Rupinder's drag flick was saved by the Belgian goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch, the rebound landed with Harmanpreet Singh who made no mistake in whipping it past Vanasch to level the scores 3-3.
India were awarded another PC in the following minute but was well-saved. However, the Belgium defense was punished when Vivek Prasad came up with brilliant stick work to dribble past Belgian defenders only to find Lalit unmanned in front of the post. A perfectly timed deflection by Lalit put India in 4-3 lead in the 53rd minute.
Under pressure to keep the lead, India fumbled in the circle to concede a PC with less than five minutes for the final hooter and the error was punished by Belgian drag flicker Tom Boon to fetch his team a 4-4 equalizer.
With the clock ticking away, both teams hunted for a winner, and despite Belgium holding the ball for most part, could not break the Indian defense.
Sreejesh made a brilliant save yet again to contain Cédric Charlier from scoring while seconds later, Indian forward Ramandeep Singh made an ambitious circle entry from the top, turning around to beat Belgian defender, striking the ball towards the post.
With Dilpreet Singh lurking around unmanned, it was another perfectly timed deflection by him that registered the win for India.