Tauranga (New Zealand): India lost 1-2 to Belgium in the final of the first leg of the Four Nations Invitational Hockey Tournament at the Blake Park here on Sunday.
Tom Boon's fourth-minute strike gave Belgium the lead but Mandeep Singh pulled India level in the 19th minute. Sébastien Dockier came up with the winning goal in the 36th minute for the Rio Olympic silver medallists. It was an intense game, with both teams having several chances to score.
Belgium were quick to get off the mark as they got a penalty corner within three minutes of the game starting but LoÃ¯ck Luypaert's drag flick was superbly snuffed out by India's K. Chinglensana Singh. Almost immediately, India had a brilliant opportunity to score when Dilpreet Singh made a beautiful turn at the top of the circle to dodge the Belgian defender. He drove in, slicing the ball across to Lalit Upadhyay who had fashioned himself in front of the post but sadly he couldn't get a nudge on the ball. Belgium, meanwhile, mounted pressure on India with a goal through Boon in the fourth minute taking a 1-0 lead. With three seconds to go for the first hooter, India won a penalty corner but Rupinder Pal Singh's fierce hit to the right bottom of the post was saved by a Belgian defender at the baseline.
India overcame a slow start in the second quarter as they gained momentum, creating potential circle penetrations. It was in the 19th minute when defender Rupinder Pal intercepted a Belgian long pass to find Manpreet in the midfield who then sliced the ball into the centre of the circle. Mandeep was quick to react, beating goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch to fetch India the equaliser. The next few minutes saw India work hard to keep the ball but a structured Belgian defence was tough to break. Meanwhile Indian goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh made an excellent save.
Six minutes into the third quarter, Belgium regained the lead. Gauthier Boccard used a powerful reverse hit from the top of the striking circle but was well-saved by Sreejesh. Dockier was quick to pick up the rebound, find the gap and smash the ball past the India goalkeeper. The European team upped the ante after taking the lead. They forced three back-to-back penalty corners but India held on, with Manpreet Singh unrelenting as the first runner to ensure no goal was scored. Trailing by a goal, India intensified their attack, but Vanasch made some important saves to keep India at bay. The last five minutes saw India's chief coach Sjoerd Marijne pull out Sreejesh to add an extra man to their attack. The effort worked with India winning a penalty corner in the dying minutes of the match but Harmanpreet's attempt was well defended and eventually ended India's campaign.
"We were much better than our previous match against Belgium. Our young players are making good progress against a world class team like Belgium which we will benefit from in the future," Marijne said after the loss, according to a Hockey India (HI) release. "For now though, even a draw would have been a better result but the Belgium goalkeeper did some good work and made crucial saves." India will now head to Wellington where the second leg of the tournament will take place. India will meet hosts New Zealand in their first match on January 24. (IANS)