Hosts India produced a spirited effort to eke out a 2-2 draw against Olympic silver medallists Belgium in an evenly-contested Pool C match of the men's hockey World Cup here on Sunday.
Pegged back by Alenander Hendricks' goal in the eighth minute, India made a valiant comeback after the change of ends, scoring two goals in the third and fourth quarter through Harmanpreet Singh (39th) and Simranjeet Singh (47th) to take the lead. But the hosts defence faltered in the final minutes and conceded a late goal when Simon Gougnard scored in the 56th minute to draw level. The draw, however, enabled world no. 5 India to take the top spot in Pool C ahead of Belgium on goal difference.
Both teams have a win and a draw from two outings. India had earlier blanked South Africa 5-0 in their opener, while world no. 3 Belgium pulled off a close 2-1 win over Canada. India will play Canada in their last pool match on December 8, while Belgium will be up against South Africa on the same day. Contrary to their last match, the Indians completely looked out of sorts in the opening two quarters against Belgium. The hosts lacked co-ordination in the midfield and that gave them hardly any scoring opportunities.
The Indians were slow to get off the blocks as the Red Lions dominated the proceedings in the first two quarters, threatening the hosts defence on a number of occasions. Belgium got their first scoring opportunity in the second minute in the form of back-to-back penalty corners but failed to get past the Indian defence. Another penalty corner in the eighth minute resulted in Belgium's first goal through Hendricks, who sounded the board with a ground flick in between the legs of Indian custodian P R Sreejesh.
Seconds from the first quarter, India had their first real scoring chance when Mandeep deflected wide a Dilpreet Singh lay over from Birendra Lakra's inch-perfect pass from the midfield. Five minutes into the second quarter, Dilpreet Singh shot wide from top right after being fed by skipper Manpreet Singh. Two minutes from half time, Tom Boon came tantalisingly close to doubling Belgium's lead when his neat deflection struck the post and went out. But after the change of ends, the Indians changed gears and looked a completely different side. The home team looked more organised and their mid-field finally started to create opportunities.
Three minutes into the third quarter, Dilpreet was denied by Belgium goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch from close range after being fed by Simranjeet. Two minutes later India earned their first penalty corner and it took a gem of save from Vanasch to keep Harmanpreet Singh's powerful high flick out of the target. Minutes later, Belgium had a chance but an alert Sreejesh denied Cedric Charlier. India's relentless pressure earned them back-to-back penalty corners in the 39th minute, the second of which resulted in a penalty stroke which was ably converted by Harmanpreet to drew parity for the hosts.
Two minutes into the fourth and final quarter, Simranjeet scored his third goal of the tournament by tapping in from close range after being set up by Kothajit Singh's fine stick work from the left flank to hand India the lead. Thereafter, the game witnessed end-to-end attacking stuff with both the teams pressing hard in search of the decisive goal. Belgium withdrew their goal keeper for an extra player with little less than five minutes from the hooter and their move struck gold when Gougnard scored with a slap shot in between Sreejesh's legs late into the game. The Indians made a few impressive moves in the remaining few minutes but Belgium defended stoutly despite the absence of their goalkeeper to share the spoils.