India fought hard but a defensive lapse from Harmanpreet Singh cost it dear as it slumped to it first defeat in the second edition of the FIH Hockey Pro League, losing 2-3 to world champion Belgium here on Sunday.
After defeating world number three the Netherlands in its opening two matches of the FIH Pro League, India beat world number one Belgium in a thrilling match on Saturday to continue its unbeaten run.
But the Manpreet Singh-led side could not repeat Saturday’s performance and went down fighting in its second match against world number number one Belgium.
Alexander Hendrickx scored from a penalty corner in the third minute for Belgium but it was Maxime Plennevaux’s (17th, 26th) two field goals that ensured the win for the visiting side.
India’s goals came from Vivek Sagar Prasad (15th) and Amit Rohidas (17th). The win enabled Belgium to keep its top position at the standings with 14 points from six games, while India is placed second with eight points from four matches.
The Red Lions took the lead as early as in the third minute when Hendrickx scored from a penalty corner after the the initial two efforts of Sebastien Dockier and Thomas Briels were brilliantly saved by India custodian P.R. Sreejesh.
India drew level eight seconds before the end of the first quarter when Vivek tapped in after Surender Kumar’s fine work from the right flank.
Belgium restored its lead two minutes into the second quarter through Plennevaux, who deflected in a beautiful pass from Simon Gougnard. But it took India just 30 seconds to level the scores when Rohidas scored off a rebound from a penalty corner.
The Indians matched Belgium in every aspect of the game but were undone when a terrible back pass from gifted Belgium the third goal in the 26th minute. The Indian defender played a pass straight to Nicolas de Kerpel from a free hit, who passed it on to Plennevaux slotted in with a diving effort.
Down by a goal, the Indians made an aggressive start after the change of ends, securing a penalty corner soon but Rohidas’ shot was saved by Belgium goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch. In the 44th minute India earned another penalty corner but it bungled the chance as the third quarter produced no goals.
In the final 15 minutes, the Indians pressed hard for the equaliser but sloppy passing and solid defending from Belgium foiled their attempts.
India captain Manpreet Singh blamed the missed chances for his team’s defeat.
“I think we have learnt a lot of things over the two games. We had good opportunities but we didn’t make the most of them,” he said.
“I am really proud of the team. We are starting at a good pace from the first whistle and scoring in the first minutes. And we have good counter attacks so we need to make the most of those.”
India will next play Australia in its third round of matches here on February 21 and 22.
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