India vs Belgium at the Hockey World Cup: Five talking points

Demons of last-minute errors continued to haunt India as Belgium came from 2-1 behind to snatch a 2-2 draw in the second Group C match of the World Cup 2018. Belgium took an early lead in the first quarter of the match as Sreejesh’s right flank was exposed by Alexander Hendrickx during a penalty corner.

The first half was just one way traffic as Belgium continued to attack Indian goal but full marks to Indian defense which after conceding kept Belgium from scoring another.

15000 plus fans in the stadium had come to see a fight between two top teams in the world and they were not disappointed, when Indian team shifted gears in the third quarter of play. Series of attack on Belgium gave finally gave reward when Harmanpreet Singh levelled the score line through a penalty stroke.

India continued to unload on Belgium as Simranjeet Singh scored his third goal of the tournament to give India 2-1 lead in the 47th minute of play. With a goal in the last quarter of the game compelled Belgium to withdraw their goal keeper for a kicking back and extra player on the pitch helped the Red Lions as Simon Gougnard scored in the 56th minute of the play to draw the game 2-2.

Here are five talking points from India-Belgium match:

Belgium is still not in World Cup mode:

If Belgium hockey fans thought that an uninspiring 2-1 win over Canada would serve Belgium a wakeup call; they would surely be disappointed as Belgium is still not in World Cup mode. They started the game really well but as the match progressed they lost their way and it was the goal from Simranjeet Singh that brought back life in the Red Lions. The urgency on the field and playing to the whistle attitude of the Belgium hockey team was missing today as they allowed India to equalize and then concede in the third quarter of the play. Belgium ranked 3 in the World has entered the tournament as favorites but the performance in the opening game is surely not going to satisfy Coach Shane McLeod and thousands of hockey fans.

Penalty corners are a major disappointment for India:

India has three penalty corner experts in their squad, Harmanpreet, Varun Kumar and Amit Rohidas, and those three penalty corner experts have 0 goals through penalty corners. Yes, one goal against South Africa did come through penalty corner but it came when the direct attempt by Harmanpreet was stopped by South African keeper. Compare that to Netherlands 7-0 thrashing of Malaysia. Netherlands earned 8 penalty corners and converted 2 of those 8 penalty corners. There is no doubt field goals are really flashy and they look good but drag flicks are a lethal weapon for any team. When Chris Ciriello joined India has strategic/penalty corner coach, he talked about having more than 30 variations to a penalty corner but Indian penalty corner experts are having a hard time nailing the direct approach.

Kothajit Singh- The Unsung Hero:

If there is one player who gets on the field, gives his 100% and then sneaks back into his cave is Kothajit Singh. A veteran of nearly 200 games, Kothajit Singh is never celebrated like rest of his team mates but it does not affect him a lot. Drafted in defense to help the young players, Kothajit Singh did great job in closing down Belgium players. He was equally effective in forward line and provided an assist to Simranjeet Singh that helped India take 2-1 lead over Belgium. Players like Kothajit Singh are not celebrated enough by Indian fans because they tend to work behind the scenes and chip in at every required occasion. Kothajit Singh, truly is an unsung hero of Indian hockey team.

Hardik Singh is the new Sardar Singh?:

Image: TOI

Here is the list of players who were expected to become the next Sardar Singh of Indian team- Manpreet Singh, Vivek Prasad, Nilakanta Sharma and Harjeet Singh. While Manpreet Singh has carved his own identity in Indian team, there is a new name that has joined the list of the The One- Hardik Singh. Taking over jersey no 8 after Sardar’s retirement, Hardik Singh was tested in the center of midfield by Harendra Singh, and Hardik easily eased in to the role. Yes, there were jitters and his inexperience was visible but he did not get intimated by the opposition. Hardik started his international career at the left half position but for he has played in center midfield for the junior team. Being called the next Sardar Singh is a huge responsibility on the shoulders of young Hardik but the calmness in his play does indicate that he is ready to take over the mantle from Sardar.

Sreejesh’s right side continues to be a problem:

Image: TOI

It was Champions Trophy 2016, right before the Olympics when we found out that Sreejesh’s weakness, his right side. From Champions Trophy 2016 to World Cup 2018, we have seen no improvement on his weak side. Today against Belgium, it was same story as the both the goals conceded by Sreejesh were on his right side. Sreejesh is bit slower on his right side when compared to his left and today his right leg did not move quickly enough as the ball went between his legs. There is still lot to be played in the World Cup and Harendra Singh should start looking at ways to provide protection to Sreejesh’s right side before things go out of hand.


Also read: Five key Indian players for the 2018 Men’s Hockey World Cup