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Last Updated Tuesday February 20 2018 02:48 AM IST

Four-nation hockey: India pip Belgium in 9-goal thriller

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Rupinder Pal Singh Rupinder Pal Singh, right, scored a brace in India's win. File photo

Hamilton (New Zealand): The Indian men's hockey team produced a spirited performance to upstage world No.3 Belgium 5-4 in its second match of the Four- Nation Invitational Tournament's second leg here on Thursday.

India had earlier lost 1-2 to Belgium in the final of the first leg but held their nerve to come up with a winner in a high-tempo match.

Rupinder Pal Singh (4, 42), Harmanpreet Singh (46), Lalit Upadhyay (53) and Dilpreet Singh (59) scored in India's win while John-John Dohmen (17), Felix Denayer (37), Alexander Hendrickx (45) and Tom Boon (56) scored for Belgium.

Sjoerd Marijne-coached India began the match with disciplined structure, playing two-touch hockey to rotate the ball swiftly and accurately to pave their way into Belgium's striking circle.

The effort paid off early when Vivek Sagar Prasad made a quick run from the left flank forcing Belgian defender to foul which resulted in the first penalty corner of the match.

It was in-form Rupinder Pal, who stepped up for the drag flick, fiercely put the ball into the top net. The early goal undoubtedly put the Belgians on the backfoot.

But the European side came back in the second quarter with a potent attack that put pressure on the Indian defense. John-John Dohmen caught the Indian defender Varun Kumar off-guard, as he positioned himself comfortably to take a successful reverse hit leveling the score 1-1.

A penalty corner won by Belgium in the 24th minute saw the dangerous Tom Boon take the flick but was brilliantly saved by P R Sreejesh who plunged to his left to snuff it away.

With seconds remaining for the second hooter, India won a penalty corner but Rupinder's flick this time went wide ending the second quarter in a stalemate.

The match took a dramatic turn in the third quarter, with both teams displaying top quality skills to take the lead. It was Belgium who forced a foul in the Indian circle to win a penalty corner in the 37th minute.

With a runner missing on the baseline, as they broke too early before the flick, Belgium tried a variation that worked with Felix nudging the ball into the post that put Belgium 2-1 ahead.

Minutes later, a defensive error in their circle saw Belgium give away a penalty corner which was superbly struck by Rupinder fetching India the much-needed equalizer in the 42nd minute.

Though India were resilient in their defense, an attempt to stop the Belgian forward in the baseline saw them concede a penalty corner with just 43 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Despite the drag flick being effectively saved by Sreejesh, Belgium kept the ball with Dohmen nudging it to Alexander Hendrickx who found the gap to hand Belgium a 3-2 lead.

With both teams unrelenting in their efforts, the final quarter was nerve-wracking as India came back from the break pressing Belgium high up.

India won a penalty corner on the counter attack, and this time though Rupinder's drag flick was saved by the Belgian goal keeper Vincent Vanasch, the rebound landed with Harmanpreet Singh who made no mistake in whipping it past Vanasch leveling the score 3-3.

India were awarded yet another penalty corner in the following minute but it was well-saved. However, the Belgian defense was punished when Vivek Prasad came up with brilliant stick work to dribble past the defenders only to find Lalit unmanned in front of the post. A perfectly-timed deflection by Lalit put India in 4-3 lead in the 53rd minute.

Under pressure to keep the lead, India fumbled in the circle to concede a penalty corner with less than five minutes for the final hooter and they were punished by Belgian drag flicker Tom Boon who made it 4-4.

With clock ticking away, both teams hunted for a winner, and despite Belgium holding the ball they could not break the Indian defense. It was Sreejesh who made a brilliant save yet again to stop Cedric Charlier from scoring.

Seconds later, Indian forward Ramandeep Singh found himself making an ambitious circle entry from the top, turning around to beat Belgian defender, striking the ball towards the post. With Dilpreet Singh lurking around unmanned, it was another perfectly timed deflection by him that sealed the win for India.

India will take on Japan in their third match on Saturday.

The opinions expressed here do not reflect those of Malayala Manorama. Legal action under the IT Act will be taken against those making derogatory and obscene statements.

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