The Indian men's hockey team suffered a 1-3 defeat at the hands of hosts Belgium, their second consecutive defeat in the Tour of Europe, to lose the series 0-2 in Boom last evening.
While Tom Boon scored a 60th minute goal to take home the winning points in the first match which otherwise was headed to a goalless draw, the Belgian squad ranked No.5 in the world beat India in the second match to wrap up the series.
Though India which comprised of a young brigade that included as many as nine players from the 2016 Junior World Cup winning team put up a resilient show with quality defence in both the games, the team fell short in terms of posing a real threat with their attack.
In the first match against Belgium, six Indian players Varun Kumar, Gurjant Singh, Armaan Qureshi, Dipsan Tirkey, Nilakanta Sharma and Suraj Karkera made their international debut and ensured they put up a commendable performance.
The team led by midfielder Manpreet Singh pushed Belgium to the limits with strong defence that saw Varun Kumar, Dipsan Tirkey, Gurinder Singh and Amit Rohidas hold fort along with the experienced Kothajit Singh. They rallied together and set a pattern that one would see repeated over the course of the game. Though it was the Belgians who started strong with opportunities being created in the striking circle, Akash Chikte was up to the task right from the first hooter as he denied Belgian attackers from scoring.
But a small error in the striking circle saw India concede a crucial PC in the dying minute of the match. Experienced drag flicker Tom Boon ensured the opportunity didn't go amiss as he successfully beat rookie goalkeeper Karkera who had replaced Chikte in the final quarter to seal the match for Belgium. The first match ended 1-0 in favour of Belgium.
The second match on Thursday began under overcast weather conditions with India setting the momentum of the match with a head start. While Karkera made a brilliant save in the initial minutes of the first quarter, forward Armaan Qureshi drew first blood with a well-struck field goal in the 4th minute that earned India a 1-0 lead. Though India won an opportunity to double the lead soon after with a penalty corner, the chance went amiss.
The following minutes saw India keep Belgium goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch busy. India's goal scorer Qureshi took two back-to-back shots on goal but Vanasch was up to the challenge as he denied any further lead. The first quarter however ended with Belgium equalizing the score with Amaury Keusters converting a field goal in the 9th minute.
Though India rallied together to gain better ball possession and circle entries, Belgium pushed India back with strong goalkeeping. The second quarter saw both teams trade penalty corners, while Belgium found success through Loïck Luypaert converting in the 21st minute, India's attempt was brilliantly saved by the Belgian goalkeeper. In the 30th minute Cedric Charlier took Belgium's lead to a strong 3-1 with a field goal.
The third quarter saw India come close to converting a field goal but Sumit narrowly missed a deflection off Mandeep. While the final quarter saw India press hard in the midfield which stalled Belgium from entering the attacking zone, Indian attackers Mandeep Singh, Qureshi and Ramandeep Singh's attempts paid no dividends as the Belgian goalkeeping continued to be valiant ensuring Belgium prevailed in the second match 3-1.
The Indian Men's Hockey team will now take on World No.4 The Netherlands on August 13 in Waalwijk, Netherlands.