The hosts, Belgium, made it a double by winning its second leg games against Indian men and women teams in the FIH Pro League on Sunday.
While Olympic champions Belgium men survived some anxious moments to emerge 3-2 victors over India, the home team notched up an impressive 5-0 win over India in the women’s section.
Yesterday, Indian men had won a bonus point with a 5-4 win in the shootout over the home team after playing a 3-3 draw in the regulation period while Indian women had lost narrowly 1-2 against Belgium.
Playing before an enthusiastic crowd, both the teams were locked in a fascinating, enthralling, highly competitive, concluding encounter of the weekend in men’s section. It was an exhibition of team goals, moments of individual brilliance, and the exciting finish in both the FIH Pro League matches between Belgium and India. To the very last minute of the second match, this encounter was barely able to separate the teams.
This was not a match you could ever take your eyes off from as the action flew from end-to-end. The first goal came in the 25th minute as India put on a showcase of sublime team work as the ball went smoothly from Varun to Harman to Vivek to Lalit to Sukhjit and finally to Abishek, who was able to tap home.
Belgium’s answer came as Cedric Charlier stole the ball, released Arhtur de Sloover whose pass found Nicholas de Kerpel. The tall forward squeezed the ball through a narrow gap to bring the scores level.
Alexander Hendrickx was on the score sheet twice, first from a penalty corner that was scored through his trade mark powerful and accurate shot. It was Hendrickx who finally put to bed in the final minute when he put a penalty stroke past PR Sreejesh. The Indian keeper was just a tantalising few inches from saving it. With just a few seconds on the clock, this was the goal that sealed the match.
That said, India still didn’t give up. With just 37 seconds left on the clock, Mandeep found a way through the Belgium defence and made it 3-2. With milli-seconds left on the clock, Vivek nearly pulled off a miracle comeback as his shot flew over Vincent Vanasch’s goal.
Player of the Match Arthur de Sloover said: ‘The whole defence did well today. India is one of the best countries in the world and we did a good job to beat them. Yesterday and today, it was the details that matter. We did well up front and kept it tight at the back. I tried to replace Arthur van Doren as best as I could.’
The result means that Belgium join Netherlands on 31 points at the top of the Pro League with India on 29 points. Netherlands have played two fewer games than both India and Belgium.
In the women’s game, Belgium got off to a blistering start when Abi Raye drove the ball around the baseline and slipped it to Barbara Nelen. It was Nelen who opening the scoring the previous day in the third minute; today she was on the score-sheet a minute earlier.
Belgium were able to extend their lead two minutes later when Charlotte Engelbert ran the ball into the circle, dodging and weaving around the defence before sending home a beautiful reverse stick shot that evaded Savita’s outstretched boot.
Despite being hit so hard in the opening few minutes, India looked bright and were working hard to get back into the game. That determination took a big blow in the second quarter however when Belgium scored twice more to double their lead to 4-0.
First Abi Raye was able to pounce onto a loose ball after her team had peppered Devi Kharibam – who had replaced Savita in the India goal – and the India defence with shots. The final rebound dropped to Raye and she finished with aplomb. The fourth goal was a typically direct and powerful drag flick from Stephanie van den Borre.
The fifth goal was a sparkling effort from Ambre Ballenghien. The ball was fired into the circle and the striker connected with it even as she was falling backwards.
Player of the Match, Stephanie Vanden Borre: ‘We had a really good start. We knew we had to make our chances count and we did. Yesterday I made a big defensive error but today we kept the ‘nil’, so that was good too.’
India Head Coach Janneke Schopman said: ‘We are not too worried about these results, the World Cup is our goal and we use these games to see what is working and what is not. We are also looking at our selection as we haven’t played our strongest line-up yet.’