Tuesday, December 11, 2018
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Posted at: Dec 4, 2018, 2:07 AM; last updated: Dec 4, 2018, 2:07 AM (IST)THE TRIBUNE @ HOCKEY WORLD CUP

Good of small things: How India held Belgium

Tndervir Grewal in Bhubaneswar

In the first half, Akashdeep Singh tried to dodge past Arthur van Doren but the heart of Belgium’s defence didn’t skip a beat. He had done his homework on Akashdeep, whose most preferred dodge is to show right and pull left. When Akashdeep pulled left, he found van Doren’s unmovable stick.

In the second half, van Doren lost a bit of that surety and firmness. Twice he let the ball get stolen from under his nose in Belgium’s third. These moments did not lead to anything significant but showed how the small things mattered in a big match, helping each team take control for long spells at different times.

India have played Belgium 10 times in the last two years; thus, the two teams didn’t have many surprises for each other. What it came down to was — who would manage to implement their plans? Coach Harendra Singh had expected Belgium’s stifling press on his midfielders. He was confident of his midfielders but said his team was prepared for Belgium’s counterattacks when, not if, there was a mistake in the middle. Belgium had expected India to try the long balls to release the pressure.

The match started on expected lines. The Indian midfielders came under intense pressure. Their slowness at receiving passes, or even failure to stop some, from the defenders showed Indians’ scared mentality. After failing to get the ball forward through the shorter channels, India panicked and started hitting long passes. Most of those were intercepted or didn’t find the intended target. The panicky behaviour set the tone for the rest of the first half. India were shaken mentally. Belgium’s goal didn’t help. Despite the world No. 3 sitting back a bit after taking the lead, allowing India a chance to move forward, India couldn’t hold possession. What didn’t help was the disconnect between the forwards, who started out too high, the midfielder and the defenders. That left a gap in the middle. They failed to connect and get the passes going. The few attacks India started ended in hopeful long balls into the circle or unnecessary runs into Belgian traps.

The disconnect hurt India more defensively as the first line was getting beaten too easily and India were letting through too many long balls.

Second half

In the second half, Belgium expected India to come at them. India came out, having sorted out their structure. The last line started higher, so did the midfield and one of the strikers floated back. They stretched the field with two players staying on the sidelines in the Belgian half. But, again, it came down to the implementation. The second half started with a couple of sure touches in the midfield. A few quick turns from the Singh trio — Hardik, Manpreet and Chinglensana — to get away from their markers lifted India’s confidence and belief further.

It helped them that Belgium were a little complacent in the second half. They were a little slow to press the Indian midfielders or intercept the long balls or anticipate the scoops, letting the forwards receive the ball behind them. When India got the equaliser, Belgium found it tough to suddenly change momentum. Even after falling behind, the Olympics silver medallists still couldn’t control the proceedings. India were more determined, while Belgium were losing the common balls, and more importantly, the mental battle.

Belgium coach Shane McLeod explained the mentality after the match. “The leading team wants to keep doing the same things, while the chasing team wants to change it up,” McLeod said. Belgium showed great composure to find the equaliser but failing to do the small things almost cost them the match.

“There was actually not too much of a difference in the first half and second half,” McLeod said. “We saw the video later. It was about the smaller things. We stopped doing the things we were doing well in the first half,” he added.

Today’s matches 

England vs Australia, 5pm 
Ireland vs China, 7pm

Live on Star Sports

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