A day after the heady triumph over Germany, India came within five minutes of pulling off another upset in the Hero Hockey World League. Playing Belgium in the classification match to determine the 5th-6th positions, India had soaked up immense pressure before taking the lead in the 54th minute through Nikkin Thimmaiah. A deflection from Florent von Aubel in the 66th minute brought Belgium level before a penalty-corner conversion by Tom Boon, a couple of minutes later, denied the hosts a win.
Despite how the brave souls, who brazenly cheered the hosts through the wind and cold on the open stands, may have felt, the scoreline was the right one. Belgium had more PCs, more circle penetrations and by far, more chances throughout the game. It was also fair, however, that PR Sreejesh got a consolation player of the match award. The Indian goalkeeper had a solid game in denying the Belgians a victory margin of several goals rather than the eventual solitary goal.
Sreejesh however had little to do in the first half — surprising, considering the pace at which the first 35 minutes were played. It was a clash between alternate styles.
Belgium moved as a structure, while the Indians attacked through counters breaking quickly when space was available. After their first couple of games, India have improved in different aspects of their game. On Saturday it was the turn of the defence to stand up.
Birendra Lakra cleared an attack as early as the fourth minute, after which Rupinderpal Singh denied Florent von Aubel a chance to shoot from the middle of the circle. Amit Rohidas cut off Cedric Charlier’s shot in the 21st minute and the resultant counter nearly saw India take the lead though Yousuf Affan.
The second half saw the Belgians move an extra man forward at the expense of their defence as they looked to get ahead. India earned a PC in the 51st minute but Rupinderpal’s drive went wide. India finally got on board when Nikkin Thimmaiah, who has had an unexceptional tournament so far, was right in front of goal to tap in a rebound off keeper Vincent Vanash.
The lead wouldn’t last. Sreejesh momentarily lost track of the ball when von Aubel dashed in front of his eyeline while deflecting a long range free hit home. The Indian keeper would also dive the wrong way when Tom Boons’ PC went to the right.
Terry Walsh was far from disheartened. His team, ranked 10th in the world, punched above its weight to finish 6th above Germany and Argentina.
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