Belgium snag late draw but still trail India on goal difference

©: Frank Uijlenbroek / World Sport Pics

India maintain a slight advantage over Belgium in Pool C at the World Cup in Bhubaneswar following a hard-fought 2-2 battle with the hosts ahead on goal difference in the group.

A sensational atmosphere greeted the players of India and Belgium as they walked out onto the turf at the Kalinga Hockey Stadium, with a sell-out 15,000 people packed into the venue to witness a key match in the race for a first place pool finish and the subsequent place in the quarter-finals that comes with it.

The Red Lions had the best of the first quarter and got their reward eight minutes in, using a clever video referral to win a penalty corner that was clinically dispatched by Alexander Hendrickx.

India had chances either side of the first quarter break, although a moment of inspiration from Tom Boon in the second quarter almost doubled the advantage when his improvised deflection hit the frame of the Indian goal.

Much to the delight of the home crowd, India came out firing in the third quarter, piling pressure on the Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallists.

Eventually the leveller arrived from the penalty spot, with a stroke being awarded after a goal-bound penalty corner effort hit the body of a Belgian player on the goal-line.

Harmanpreet Singh proved to be the coolest man in the stadium, soaking up all the tension and channelling it into an effort that was hard and true, wrongfooting Belgium goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch to find the bottom left corner.

The Kalinga Stadium erupted two minutes into the fourth and final quarter when Simranjeet Singh scored his third goal of the competition from close range, putting India very much in the driving seat for that crucial first place finish in the pool.

It proved to be temporary, with Belgium replacing their goalkeeper with an outfield player to turn up the heat on the home favourites. It paid off four minutes from the end when Simon Gougnard slapped home an equaliser after a decisive Belgium move ripped through the Indian defence to complete the scoring.

The outcome means that Belgium will probably be goal-hungry in their final group game against South Africa as they will probably need a big win to overhaul India on goal difference.

Earlier in the day, Canada and South Africa drew 1-1. The result gives the red caribous the advantage over South Africa on goal difference at this stage in the race to finish third and snag a crossover place.

On Monday, it’s the second round of Pool A matches. Spain face France while New Zealand meet Argentina.

Speaking ahead of his team’s meeting with Argentina match, Black Sticks Head Coach Darren Smith said: “This is an exciting opportunity for us to match up against the Olympic Champions at the World Cup.

“They are a high-quality team with very skillful forwards, composure and a deadly penalty corner. We also know that the points for this game are critical to get to the next round so we will be targeting the three on offer. We are looking forward to matching up against them.

Argentina Head Coach German Orozco said: “For us, we need to improve our game both when we are in possession and also without it. We want to continue building confidence in the team.”