Winning is everything, and sometimes the only thing.
Gripping, hard-fought and perhaps one of the most engaging matches of the 2018 Hockey World Cup so far was the 2-2 draw between India and Belgium in their Pool C encounter on Sunday evening — it had more lessons for both teams in it, than just the pure result.
The young Indian team deserves applause for their spirited fightback after trailing world number 3 Belgium 0-1 in the first two quarters, but in the end they would rue the fact that they let it slip away from a position of win. It is not often that India comes close to beating Belgium — they have defeated Belgium only once in the two teams’ last nine matches — and also guaranteeing themselves of a spot in the quarter-finals of the World Cup, but Sunday was one such occasion where they came mighty close.
Sunday’s 2-2 draw can be looked upon in varied ways. The match could be remembered for Belgium’s brilliance and discipline in the opening two quarters, while it could also be seen as India’s resurgence in the second half and the ruthless energy with which they matched one of the most technically sound European teams.
But while the Rio Olympic silver medallists are a pro at winning at major tournaments, the day’s draw is a good lesson — and a reminder — for India to learn how to win from such situations.
India know they had the match in their control, with less than 13 minutes to go for the final hooter.
Major tournaments are all about doing things right from the word go and availing those half chances. In the fast-paced competitive world, there are no second chances. And for once, India had found control and a way back but perhaps still need to understand the most important thing of it all — to win and pocket those three points.
Chief coach Harendra Singh summed it up in a few words. “I believe in finishing off the opponents when they are down,” Harendra said after the match. “I think when the team is 2-0 or 2-1 up, there is no way you can relax there. That is the time to strike even more because if you give your opposition a chance, they will strike back.”
And Belgium did strike in the end. After Harmanpreet Singh (39th minute) and Simranjeet Singh (47th) had put India ahead in a brilliant turnaround in the second half, India needed to keep the momentum going.
The aggressive and dominant manner of play was helping India as Belgium seemed to be in a state of shock due to the sudden waves of attacks. India opened up the aerial route, attacked from the flanks and the defence soaked up intense pressure.
Belgium appeared tired and jaded in the third and early parts of the fourth quarters, but they never gave up.
They fought back hard with just 10 minutes to go and replaced goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch with a kicker-back to add one extra man in the attack. India began to make mistakes at this juncture and with just four minutes to go, they conceded.
The 2-2 draw has thrown the Pool C wide open. India with a win and a draw top the pool on four points and have a better goal difference (+5). Belgium, also with a win and a draw, are second on four points but have a goal difference of +1. Canada and South Africa, the other teams in the pool, have a point each after a loss and a draw each.
The five-day gap will provide the hosts ample time and opportunity to regroup and plan as they face Canada on December 8th, in what will be virtual pre-quarterfinal. India have a good chance of topping the pool and earning a direct qualification into the quarter-final as they enjoy a superior goal difference.
As things stand now, if India defeat Canada in their last pool match then Belgium will have to beat South Africa by a huge margin to stop the hosts from qualifying directly for the next stage.