India squandered a great opportunity in their opening match against Belgium in the Rabobank Hockey World Cup. Twenty minutes away from glory after snatching a 2-1 lead against the run of play, they still had a draw to look forward to with 12 seconds on the clock against World No. 5 Belgium. Then, that old failing – the inability to keep possession in the dying minutes of match cost them dearly as they lost 2-3 to Belgium, who led 1-0 at half-time.
Indians were outplayed for most of the first half when they gave too much space to the Belgian strikers, and it stayed so for the first 10-15 minutes of second half. The Belgian strikers be it John-John Dohmen, Tom Boom or Simon Gougnard, kept squandering decent chances. But it was not just them messing up, Indian goalkeeper Sreejesh also held the Indian flag aloft with a highly performance.
After holding out for 34 minutes, mainly due to the brilliance of their goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, who had a superb game, India conceded the first goal with just over a minute left in the first half. Florent van Aubel making good a slapshot put Belgium ahead in the 34th minute.
In the second half India seemed to be more visible in the frame. Mandeep Singh made good a square pass from Dharamvir Singh, who had got the ball from Gurbaj Singh to get Indian to 1-1 in the 45th minute of the game.
Then against the run of play Akashdeep Singh scored a beauty after being left unmarked inside the striking circle. He neatly deflected a long strike from VS Raghunath, who otherwise had a mediocre game.
Despite Belgium going all out the Indians managed to hang in by a slender thread. Belgium, who have never finished higher than eighth at the World Cup but are now looking to take a medal, wasted no less than four penalty corners, before Gougnard converted the fifth to restore parity in the match.
Once they found the equaliser, the Belgians saw new hope. But they were unable to find the goal as chances went abegging.
With the match seemingly destined for a draw, the Belgians made one final lunge as the Indians tried to dribble their way out of trouble in their own half, rather than clear the ball. They dispossessed the Indians and got into the target zone.
With the ball getting switched around between the Belgians, Dohnen, who had his share of misses in the match, found the target from close with a nice tap as the Indian defence ran all over in confusion. The clock showed 12 seconds and there was no time even for a re-start.
"They (Belgium) had the first half and we had the second. But I suppose they had the first half by a better share (possession) than us in second. I won't say we deserved a point or not, in the end you get what you deserve," said the normal smiling Terry Walsh, as the disappointment showed through.
Walsh, who took over as the Indian coach about six months ago, added, "We should have got a point from there." But then of his own accord, shook his head, his mind probably still re-playing that last minute disaster of young Mandeep Singh being unable to hold the ball with less than a minute to go.
On the question of pressure and expectation, Walsh added, "I would say the pressure is great on teams like Belgium. The pressure on is something others may put. But I would say the way we are playing the big teams now is way better than what we were doing earlier."
Skipper Sardar Singh, also hugely disappointed, said, "They were dominating in the first half, but we held out as Sreejesh did a great job in the goal. We also did well to catch up and then even take lead. It was disappointing to see them equalise as we made small mistakes here and then and then in the last minute, it was a huge error. It a not a very good start for the team and we will have to push ourselves a little more harder now."