FIH Pro League hockey: Less than 2 days after a drubbing, India stand up to Olympic champs Belgium in 2-2 draw | Hockey News

India did almost everything Craig Fulton asked for. Before the pushback, the chief coach hoped his players would be more efficient in the attacking third, which they weren’t in the opening two matches of the current leg of the Pro League. At half-time, he demanded a little better defensive show. By full-time, Fulton left the field grinning.

It wasn’t a win. But less than 48 hours after a 4-1 drubbing against Belgium, India responded by holding the Olympic champions to a 2-2 draw, before missing out on a bonus point in the penalty shootout.

India had two very well-taken field goals, created – but failed to convert – penalty corners, at times displayed the same old mistakes but also showcased something different, if not new: intent inside Belgium’s ‘D’.

For far too long, India’s strikers have been guilty of being shy of taking a shot at goal. They’d miss-trap, look for a foot or simply look for a teammate to pass the ball – do everything but shoot. On Saturday, they were brave and creative, taking minimum touches to pass the ball, smartly using deflections and being unafraid to have a go at goal.

It resulted in two beautiful field goals. The first came in the 11th minute. Hardik Singh played a floating pass over the midfield that found Sukhjeet Singh at the byline. Sukhjeet controlled it well and instead of taking an ambitious reverse hit, which could have been blocked by the Belgian goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch, he turned and swerved past a defender, brought the ball on his forehand and drilled in a low, dangerous ball across the face of the goal. Araijeet Singh Hundal, the tall striker who was drafted into the playing squad on Saturday, went down on his knees and tapped it past the goalie.

Festive offer

This piece of brilliance was soon followed by a brain fade. At the half-hour mark, a Belgium attacker played a seemingly harmless pass towards India’s ‘D’ that took a deflection off an Indian stick. Harmanpreet Singh, one of the calmest defenders, surprisingly closed his eyes and showed his back to the attacker. The ball hit his foot, Belgium earned a penalty corner and Felix Denayer scored. Belgium took the lead off another PC rebound in the fourth quarter.

Harmanpreet, however, made amends late on, playing upfield. He received the ball, swivelled to make space, and crossed into the ‘D’, splitting the defence. Sukhjeet, who created the first goal, was in the right position this time to deflect the ball into the goal. The 57th-minute strike helped India cancel out Florent van Aubel’s goal in the 50th minute to salvage a draw on a day India produced a much-improved performance.

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