The balance of the weekend is positive for the Olympic champions who showed a lot of pugnacity and quality against a very sharp Indian team. Two encounters from which Michel van den Heuvel will certainly draw many lessons. Article reserved for subscribers
The temporary Wilrijkse Plein stadium was once again packed (2,500 spectators) for this second duel between 2 of the world’s best hockey nations. After the disappointment of the day before and the Indian comeback in the last minutes (3-3 and bonus point for the visitors), the Olympic champions had every intention of taking the 3 points in the 14th duel of the season. But without Arthur Van Doren (sprained ankle and Pro League over), Michel van den Heuvel had to reshuffle his squad a bit with the return of William Ghislain to the squad.
Like Saturday afternoon, the Indians were sharp and started the debates with a lot of desire. The first quarter of an hour was intense with 2 big chances for the Belgians, via Tanguy Cosyns and Sebastien Dockier. Vincent Vanasch, back in goal, also had to intervene with authority twice. The opposing defense was compact and the Lions struggled to find space to develop their game. In the 21st minute, on the first penalty shot by the current top scorer in the competition (17 goals), Hermanpreet Singh, Vanasch was authoritarian. But the Cologne goalkeeper could unfortunately do nothing to prevent Abhishek from opening the scoring (25th).
Only 3 points lost in the last 8 Pro League meetings.
The start of the second half was better on the Belgian side and Nicolas De Kerpel wasted no time in equalizing on a perfect serve from Arthur de Sloover (33′). The duels were still just as intense and physical and each of the teams demonstrated their intention to take the lead quickly. But in this 3rd quarter, the real possibilities were ultimately quite rare with very compact defensive blocks on both sides and few circle entries. In the 48th minute, the Red Lions inherited a second penalty and this time Alexander Hendrickx sent a missile which hit the board with a crash. The Belgians were, finally, in command of this meeting. The Indians obtained a new penalty but Vincent Vanasch pulled out all the stops again to repel the powerful sleep of Hermanpreet Singh. Finally, 81 seconds from the final whistle, Belgium obtained a stroke which Alexander Hendrickx calmly converted. The end of the match was tense as Mandeep Singh reduced the gap again 1 minute from time (3-2) before a last big chance for Sukhjeet Singh.
“It was a performance a little less good than the first but more successful in terms of realism”, underlined Tanguy Cosyns. “We combined and reacted better after Arthur Van Doren’s injury. We were a little apathetic at the end of the first period and this first Indian goal fortunately delivered us. But we can be satisfied with these results against an Indian team that really impressed me. And honestly, I didn’t think we were capable of evolving at this level at this stage of the preparation. Playing India this weekend was interesting. The overall balance of the weekend is positive given the context. We have only lost 3 points in the last 8 Pro League meetings. We have stored a lot of information for the continuation of our development.
Next week, the Red Lions will punctuate this 3rd edition of the Pro League, in London, against England. Currently on equal points with the Dutch (who have 2 matches less), they should nevertheless not renew their title except for a little slack from the Batavians during their last 4 outings. But the main thing is clearly elsewhere for Michel van den Heuvel who is using this Pro League to continue the fundamental work essential for his team to perform next January, during the World Cup, in India.