While Indian fans have every right to rejoice at the manner in which their team has begun the Pro League 2020 season, experts remain sceptical about the results given that teams like Belgium have been involved in club hockey, of late, and will need to time to coalesce in national colours.
The Indians began their Pro League double-header against Belgium with a 2-1 win in a contest that was dominated by the World Champions who directed 24 shots on target as compared to the hosts who managed just 6.
The Belgians came back strongly to win the second encounter 2-3 but the Indians had better stats to show for their efforts as compared to the first match.
FIH Master Coach Siegfried Aikman has been following the Pro League closely - and, in an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda, the Dutchman gives us an insight as to why he feels that the Belgians not only played better in both matches but will get even better with time.
Aikman complimented the Indians for their skill, fitness, and fighting spirit, but opined that it was the valiant goalkeepers who won the first of the two matches for the home side.
"India played two very good matches based on skills, fitness and fighting spirit. In both matches, Belgium was the better team. In the first match, Belgium dominated and played a very good match and India defended with all they had."
"The Indian defence was led by two stunning goalies who saved almost all Belgium’s attacking attempts. As the Belgian captain said after the match it was not Belgium’s day. The Indians counter-attacked very, very well and were deadly effective. It was a real hockey advertisement."
"In the second match, I expected Belgium to win with big margins which never happened. Still Belgium was the stronger team who took the lead and allowed India to recover quickly after their goals."
"They wanted to counterattack and allowed India ball possession. India wasn’t that effective like in the first match and according the stats, India dominated the match - but, I think, after analyzing the stats that is not the case."
The Dutchman, who guided the Japanese to their first-ever Asian Games hockey gold in 2018 was emphatic that the Indians are not yet in the same league as the World No. 1 side in spite of their win in the first match.
Aikman also wonders whether the Indians would be able to replicate their strong performance in their away matches of the Pro League 2020 against Germany, Great Britain, Argentina, and Spain.
"India played two very good matches but are not a real match for Belgium. India prepared for about two years to perform in the Pro League while their opponents just restarted."
"They have their domestic leagues which requires that the players play and practice with their clubs and partly they are with the National team."
"After their League is over, they will also start their fulltime program and will improve massively. India will hopefully improve too and I’m anxious to see if they will have the same fighting spirit and determination in the away matches."
The master coach also feels that global hockey needs a strong India to lend support to the game and felt that India's campaign, thus far, has been promising.
It’s very promising what they have shown until now and global hockey needs a strong India!
The Indians take on World No.2 and defending champions Australia next at the Kalinga Stadium.