Road running

No slowing down for Sreejesh, penalty corners still a concern — Takeaways from India vs Belgium

The Indian men’s hockey team travelled last weekend to play Olympic Champions Belgium on their turf in the two-legged fixture of the FIH Hockey Pro League. Alexander Hendrickx’s brace helped Belgium to notch up a thrilling 3-2 victory over India in the second match of the two-leg FIH Pro Hockey League tournament on Sunday.

Coming back from a 0-1 deficit, Hendrickx’s two goals (49th and 59th minute) in the fourth quarter, along with a 33rd-minute goal from Nicolas de Kerpel brought some relief to the hosts, who were stunned in the first leg by the visitors 4-5 in a shootout.

The high-intensity action and tactical battles in the middle of the park got fans all excited over about the two best teams contesting.

Phew 😅 2 days, 2 games, 2 big performances! A heavyweight, blockbuster contest between two teams at the top of world hockey. Dare I say, India has the best opportunity ever to win Gold at the Commonwealth Games next month. Before that, the Dutch next weekend 🙂 Bring it on 👊🇮🇳

— Siddharth Pandey (@SportifiedSid) June 12, 2022

Major talking points from both games

The goalkeeping in the India v Belgium games was of the highest quality, with the two best goalkeepers, PR Sreejesh and Vincent Vansach, going head to head. But this time for Belgium, the deputy keeper Van Dorel was exceptional in the first game matching India’s attack shot by shot. Vincent Vansach returned in the second game and stamped his authority with three outstanding saves. For India, PR Sreejesh showed no signs of slowing down as he made multiple saves across two games and then, in the penalty shootout. Despite giving three strokes away, he saved the last one to win it for India.

Congrats India, wins shoot out 5-4, PR Sreejesh saving a stroke in the shoot out. Amazing, pleasing and great game of hockey. Overcoming Bel in Bel is a feat in itself.

— stick2hockey.com (@indianhockey) June 11, 2022

Graham Reid won the tactical battle in the first game as India dominated the circle penetrations and number of shots attempted. Belgium came back with a strong defensive formation in second game to nullify the tactical nous of Graham, which they did successfully with a brilliant display of defence.

Indian attackers needed to be more clinical in front of the goal. Both games saw the attackers missing quite a few sitters in front of the goal, especially Akashdeep. India would have easily scored more than 5 in the first game had it not been for the poor finishing as they attempted 16 shots and had 31 circle penetrations.

Tactical analysis

India was quite impressive against the Olympic champions when it came to the tactical battle. Indian head coach Graham Reid stuck to his basic principle of applying high pressure and playing numerical advantage up the field. It forced the opposition into fast decision making, which was vulnerable to mistakes or played long ball which could have gone either way.

India changed the roles of players such as Manpreet Singh, who sat deep, shielded the backline, and then advanced up the pitch to bypass multiple bodies and reached the circle. His job looked more like that of a box-to-box midfielder in Football.

Former Indian Captain Manpreet Singh is back on field and with same intensity (Source- Twitter/@manpreetpawar07)

The area of concern for Indian defence looked like the 1v1 situation and positional awareness. While Jarmanpreet and Harmanpreet did well advancing up the pitch and then tracking back, the other defenders looked confused regarding their position. The same problem led to two goals in the second game; one of them can be attributed to the fault of Indian captain Amit Rohidas. India still need to improve their penalty corner routine and conversion rate. 1/9 is not the kind of number which looks good when you have a drag-flicker like Harmanpreet in the team.

Best moment of tie

The moment which stood out was the beautiful team goal scored by Abhishek in the second game. It started with a move from the defence when Rohidas played a long ball which Gurjant trapped, and he ran, swayed, and spun like a dance to open the defence and then passed it to Abhishek in front of the open goal as Lalit had dragged everyone with him.

India face the Netherlands next weekend, which might be the deciding game week of who wins the FIH Hockey Pro League.

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