A young and vibrant Indian team started their campaign in the 2018 Hockey World Cup with a commanding 5-0 victory against South Africa on Wednesday.
India will now face Olympic silver medallist and third-ranked Belgium in their next match on Sunday. The Red Lions defeated Canada 2-1 in their first match in Pool C. Although Belgium started their World Cup campaign as favourites, they looked far from impressive in their opening game.
Belgium wasted four penalty corners in the match against Canada. It was their confident start which eventually helped them gather the three points. They scored in the 3rd and the 22nd minute of the match.
Belgium captain Thomas Briels scored the second goal after Felix Denayar struck in the early stage of the match. But the Canadians came back strongly in the second half as Mark Pearson's penalty corner was converted into a goal in the 48th minute. From then on, Belgium had to scrap hard to stop Canada from drawing level.
At the end of the match, Briels admitted, "We played a very good first half. We started positively and dominated but Canada came back strongly after the halftime and give us some tough time."
In their opening match of Pool C, hosts India crushed the South Africans with 3 field goals and 2 penalty corners. Simranjeet Singh scored two goals and clinched the Player of the Match award. Mandeep Singh, Lalit Upadhyay and Akashdeep Singh scored one goal each. The fifth-ranked Indian team were expected to perform strongly against the South Africans who are not among the top teams in hockey.
India has been the most successful hockey team in the history of the Olympics. They have claimed 8 gold medals thus far. However, the Men in Blue have been inconsistent in the World Cup. Their only World Cup title came in 1975. Manpreet Singh's team will be eager to reclaim the coveted trophy after a long gap of 43 years on their homeland.
India will look forward to beating Belgium in order to gain more confidence and strengthen their position to enter into the quarterfinals. It will be a challenge to beat the Red Lions who claimed the silver medal in the Olympics in 2016.
India's attack will depend heavily on Akashdeep Singh. The likes of Mandeep Singh and Simranjeet Singh will also be key players for the hosts as they aim to put the ball in the back of the net on a regular basis. Defenders such as Harmanpreet Singh and Surender Kumar will have to be on their toes for the whole match in order to stop the Belgian challenge.
It is shaping to be a tough match for both teams. While Belgium can bank on their experienced players to perform competently, India have the advantage of the home crowd and can count on their younger players. The eagerly awaited match will take place on 2nd December (Sunday) at 19:00 IST at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar.
Follow Sportskeeda for all the latest Hockey World Cup Points table, schedule, stats & previews.Published 30 Nov 2018, 13:27 IST