Indian men hockey team's sensational run of form continued as it stunned world champions Belgium 2-1 to seal its third win on the trot in the FIH Pro League at Bhubaneswar on Saturday. (More Hockey News)
After defeating world number three the Netherlands in their opening two matches of the FIH Pro League, India beat world number one Belgium in a thrilling match at the Kalinga Stadium here to continue their unbeaten run.
Mandeep Singh scored a field goal in the second minute of the match before Gauthier Boccard equalised for European champions Belgium in the 33rd minute with a powerful drag flick from a penalty corner.
Ramandeep Singh scored the decisive goal in the 47th minute via a penalty corner to give world number four India a victory in front of a frenzied crowd at the same venue where the home side beat the Dutch twice.
With this sensational victory, India consolidated their ranking from No. 5 to No.4 for the first time since the world ranking system was introduced in 2003.
The two sides meet again on Sunday at the same venue.
After getting off to a rollicking start in their maiden FIH Hockey Pro League with a 5-2 and 3-1 shoot-out (3-3 in regulation time) win against the Netherlands, India did well to halt Belgium's winning streak in the ongoing FIH Pro League.
Coming into this match with identical 4-2 wins against Australia and 6-2 and 3-1 triumph against New Zealand, Belgium struggled to convert their chances against India.
Despite dominating with ball possession, making as many as 38 circle entries, taking 24 shots on goal and 12 penalty corners, the Belgian unit could not muster much success inside the circle.
The Belgians were denied thanks to the stand-out performance by Indian goalkeepers PR Sreejesh and Krishan Pathak who lived up to the billing hooter-to-hooter, backing India's defence by knocking off pretty much every opportunity created by the visiting team strikers.
Pathak, who was named Player of the Match, said: "We started well and worked very hard. We are very proud of the defence of our penalty corners."
Belgium skipper Thomas Briels rued his team's missed chances.
"It was a tough match and playing India at home is never easy. We could not convert our chances. There have been many times when PCs have saved us but today the Indian goalkeepers were outstanding and hopefully, we can seek revenge tomorrow," he said.
The Indians were quick to get off the blocks with debutant Raj Kumar Pal setting up a fantastic goal within 90 seconds of play as he passed from the left flank to Dilpreet Singh on top of the circle.
Young forward Dilpreet, making his comeback in the Indian squad after over a year, took a powerful shot on goal which found a perfect deflection from Mandeep Singh who was positioned in front of Belgian goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch.
It was Pathak who ensured Belgium did not bounce back. He was kept busy all of 15 minutes in the first quarter with Belgium creating plenty of opportunities which included as many as five penalty corners.
Belgium's wait to convert a goal ended only in the third quarter when they made a good variation of a penalty corner, opening up the angle to trick India's rushers and made enough space for Gauthier Boccard to put the ball past Pathak to level scores in the 33rd minute.
With scores reading 1-1, it was a tense final quarter but India pushed back Belgium by scoring another goal.
It was Ramandeep, who after injecting the ball during a penalty corner battery, picked up a rebound off Belgium's first rusher to score the goal.
Though Belgium created penalty corners in the dying minutes of the match, India held their nerves and experienced goalkeeper Sreejesh ensured India sealed the game to stay at the second position in the points table.
Belgium are still on top with 11 points from five games.
The victory was also India's 50th win against Belgium.