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Spirited Indian Men’s Hockey team loses to Belgium in shoot-out thriller

First Published: 26th May, 2024 8:49 IST

For India, Araijeet Singh Hundal (11') and Sukhjeet Singh (57') scored in regulation time while Felix Denayer (30') and Florent Van Aubel (50') scored for the home team.

A spirited Indian Men’s Hockey Team went down 1-3 in the shootout against hosts Belgium after ending the regulation time with a 2-2 draw in a high-octane FIH Hockey Pro League 2023-24 match here in Antwerp on Saturday.
For IndiaAraijeet Singh Hundal (11′) and Sukhjeet Singh (57′) scored in regulation time while Felix Denayer (30′) and Florent Van Aubel (50′) scored for the home team.

It was Belgium‘s aggressive goalkeeping that saw them through this thrilling encounter where India went all-out to avenge their 1-4 loss in the previous match against the hosts.
India got off to a fine start with a dominant display of ball possession, and a structured foray into the circle. Though young forward Abhishek’s first shot on goal in the opening minutes found no success, he teamed up with Sanjay to help India win their first PC of the match as early as in the 9th minute. Skipper Harmanpreet Singh came up with a good flick but an experienced Vincent Vanasch saved it well.
Building on this momentum in their attack, India drew first blood in the 11th minute when young forward Araijeet Singh Hundal scored a brilliant field goal. A well-timed aerial ball by Manpreet Singh from the midfield was picked up superbly by Sukhjeet Singh. He did well to control the ball and unleash a powerful shot on goal but an attentive Araijeet gave it the finishing touch with a perfect deflection to put it past Vanasch.

The final moments in the first quarter saw India put up a spirited defence, led by keeper Krishan Pathak. He made a diving effort to save Cedric Charlier’s reverse hit.
The visitors went into the second quarter with improvised attacks as young guns Sukhjeet and Abhishek continued to impress. They managed to fetch India their second PC, which was well-taken by Jugraj Singh but the Belgian defence was too strong to break. Though India created several chances in this quarter where they could have taken the scoreline to 2-0, they instead ended up conceding a goal seconds before the half-time hooter. It was an infringement in the circle that gave away a PC. While Alexander Hendrickx’s drag-flick was saved by Pathak, he could do little to stop Denayer who picked up the high rebound to get the ball in.
After the ten-minute half-time break, India took the intensity of the game up a notch. In a display of aggressive play was Manpreet Singh who made a stupendous defensive interception to prevent a shot on goal from Nelson Onana. The sensational defensive work showcased India‘s intent to give it their all against Belgium. The following minutes in the third quarter saw both teams trade chances in their respective circles but they remained goalless with the score continuing to read 1-1. Vanasch remained Belgium‘s cynosure in defence as he made a great save to stop Gurjant Singh’s diving deflection from the right only seconds before the third quarter ended.
The final quarter saw Belgium‘s attackers test the Indian defence. While their PC in the initial minutes of the fourth quarter was denied after a good referral by India, a defensive error in the following minutes gave away a PC to the hosts. This time Florent Van Aubel was on fire. His backhand touch after Hendrickx’s drag-flick was saved by Sreejesh gave Belgium the much-needed 2-1 lead, sending the home crowd into celebratory mode.
However, this 50th-minute goal did not dent India‘s spirit as they continued their hunt for an equalizer in full gusto. It was Captain Harmanpreet who led India‘s resurgence, playing up the field, he received the ball at the top of the circle and turned around to send a brilliant pass to Sukhjeet poised in front of the post. His one-handed deflection earned India that elusive equaliser.
While India brought the Belgian crowd on the edge of their seats as they won another great chance to extend their lead through a PC, the execution didn’t go as planned, ending the regulation time with a 2-2 draw.
The Indian Men’s Hockey Team will take on Argentina in their next match at 2200 hrs IST on 26th May. (ANI)

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