Indian defence faces tough Belgium challenge in semis

Antwerp, July 2 (IANS) India need to improve their defence as they will be up against an attacking Belgium for a place in the final of the Hockey World League (HWL) Semi-Final at the Brasschaat Municipal Park here on Friday.

World No.12 Malaysia tested Indian defence to the hilt and held a 2-1 lead till the third quarter of the quarter-final, before Jasjit Singh Kular’s double penalty corner conversions in the final quarter helped the 2014 Asian Games champions pip Malaysia 3-2.

With this win they set up a semi-final date with hosts Belgium, who continued their undefeated run by edging past a spirited France 5-4 in another pulsating quarter-final.

“In the upcoming clash, we have to beef up our defence chain as Belgium is known for sneaking in the goals and we will not want to give them easy access to our D,” Indian skipper Sardar Singh said, while acknowledging the Belgian firepower.

World No.9 India met world No.4 Belgium on three occasions in 2014 which started with HWL Final in New Delhi, wherein the latter beat the Indian team 2-1. This was followed by the FIH World Cup, wherein India lost to Belgium 2-3 in their opening match of the tournament.

The third time around though India turned the tables in their favour when they met rising European powerhouse Belgium in the quarter-final during the Champions Trophy, where they won 4-2.

On Friday, India will look to put up a similar performance that gave them the Champions Trophy win.

“We are confident of the match tomorrow as the team is high in form. Yesterday what worked in our favour was our converting the penalty corners at crucial times. I am sure the two back-to-back goals by Jasjit would have given his confidence a boost and we are confident he will stand up to tomorrow’s test again,” captain Sardar said in a release.

The Indian attack against Belgium will be heavily dependent on forward Ramandeep Singh, who has thus far showcased his classy finishing skills in the 10-nation tournament. With four field goals, he is joint second with Australia’s Jamie Dwyer, Chris Ciriello and Kieran Govers and the opposition on Friday cannot afford to ignore his moves.

India’s midfield, led by skipper Sardar Singh, has shown a new zeal as it has effectively kept ball possession and created well-knit opportunities for the team to score.

Gurbaj Singh, who played his 200th international match on June 28 during the league match against Australia, along with Chinglensana Singh, Dharamvir Singh and young Lalit Upadhyay have been playing a important role in defending as well as feeding the attackers.

The Indian defence faces a huge task as it will be up against a Belgium side that has played aggressively so far. They possess a troop of talented attackers — Amaury Keusters, Sebastian Dockier, Felix Denayer, drag-flicker Tom Boon, skipper John-john Dohmen and Dorian Thiery.

Indian chief coach Paul van Ass is aware of the challenge his side faces.

“Yesterday while we won the match we have to work on our defence. We have to score the initial goal and maintain the lead thereafter and now allow the game to get away from our hands at any point,” van Ass said.

“Belgium is a tough team and we have to be completely alert with them tomorrow.”

Dutchman van Ass, who guided his country to silve medals in 2012 Olympics and 2014 World Cup expects young Jasjt to continue his good work.

I am happy that we are coming in line with our penalty corner conversions and we have to ensure that we continue this for tomorrow’s match,” the 54-year-old said.

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