Unforced errors, vertical passes and exceptional trapping and control from the opponent. India coach Harendra Singh had warned his side of all these ahead of the crucial Pool C game on Sunday. For 30 minutes, it looked like his wards had forgotten all the lessons.
The next 30, they went all out to make up for lost time and left Belgium shaken and stirred before the Red Lions recovered right at the end. A match of two halves with both teams dominating one each, a 2-2 draw was fair result at the World Cup on Sunday, keeping Pool C and the race to quarterfinals wide open.
The Indian hockey team has declared defensive play as persona non grata for some time now, regardless of competition or circumstances. But on Sunday, it was forced to do that for the first two quarters as Belgium pushed the host on the backfoot. The full press attack from the Belgians saw his team take time to settle, the Indian players admitting the slow start was a concern.
Belgium took an early lead, Alexander Hendrickx slotting the ball through Sreejesh’s legs off a penalty corner, to stun the crowd and leave the Indians chasing the ball. With precise passing, dead-stop trapping and exceptional ball control, Belgium dominated in every department even as the host struggled to even break into the opposition circle. It was a relief that the score was only 1-0 at half time, Belgium coach Shane McLeod admitting his team would have preferred more fruits for its labour while crediting the Indian defence for keeping his strikers at bay.
31st minute onwards, it was a different story. India attacked with vengeance, began finding the gaps and kept stealing the balls to effect turnovers. Having conceded them by the dozen in the first half, the Indians now began taking the ball back. The midfield, erratic and disorganised, became more structured. The strikers improved their positioning inside the circle, and it paid off. India earned two penalty corners, the second of which was turned into a stroke and converted by Harmanpreet Singh to bring parity and the voice back to a capacity crowd that strangely missed the buzz nevertheless.
Simranjeet Singh made it 2-1 eight minutes later but just as it looked like India would get one foot into the quarterfinal, Belgium fought back. It took off goalkeeper Vincent Vanasche, added an outfield player, went for broke and got the equaliser four minutes from time. The result leaves both teams needing a win in their final games that would be played after a five-day break, India with the slightest of advantages in terms of goal difference but a tricky Canada to deal with.
Earlier in the day, South Africa fought out a 1-1 draw with Canada to live another day in the competition.