Graham Reid’s inspired Indians got their Pro League 2020 campaign off to a flyer with a couple of fluent performances against the Dutch – but, the Belgians are a class apart altogether. It’s been a fairy-tale rise for the Europeans who were hardly a force to reckon with until a decade ago, but earned the fifth spot at the Games in London 2012 and emerged as the runners up at Rio 2016.
A section of the hockey fraternity remain sceptical about the future of the side given that the veterans who took the field at London continue to spearhead the Red Lions today.
Colin Batch was at the helm when names like John-John Dohmen, Florent van Aubel, Cedric Charlier, Gauthier Boccard, Thomas Briels, Simon Gougnard and the redoubtable Vincent Vanasch in goal shone at London. Batch is now with the Aussie camp, but the same stalwarts who catapulted Belgium to the pinnacle of success continue to stun the hockey world with their exploits.
Whether or not the Belgians can maintain their position once the old-guard hang up their boots remains to be seen – but, for now, there is little doubt that Shane McLeod’s boys are the ones to beat for all and sundry.
Easier said than done since the World and European champions have made their way past defending champions Australia and New Zealand – and, are perched merrily atop the Pro League points table after having regained the World No. 1 position from the kookaburras.
During the 2018 World Cup, India held Belgium — the eventual World Champions — to a 2-2 draw in Odisha.
The team’s performance at the Pro League opener has ensured that the weekend clash at Bhubaneswar will be a contest to relish. A buoyant Indian side is expected to go all out against Belgium in the vital clash will be a sight to behold for the spectators present at the Kalinga stadium.
The Indians have a heady mix of youth and experience at their disposal with young Raj Kumar Pal likely to be used as the secret weapon in Reid’s arsenal.
Manpreet Singh and co. were on fire in their opener and will be expected to play their natural attacking game against the Belgians who will be hoping to power in the long balls into the striking circle in order to thwart the compact Indian defence.
The ability of the Indians to deal with the clever crash balls angled in from the backline will be the key early on in a contest where the first-half goals may prove to be the big difference.
The Indians have five points from two matches after winning a bonus point for a shootout win against Netherlands in their second match before winning the first 5-2.
The Belgians have amassed 11 points from four matches having beaten Australia 4-2 after registering a shootout win against the kookaburras followed by 6-2 and 3-1 wins over New Zealand.