A rusty-looking Indian women's hockey team struggled for most of the game before putting up a fight in the fourth quarter, but eventually lost 1-2 to Belgium in its first of the two-legged FIH Pro League tie in Antwerp on Saturday.
An attacking start to the match saw both teams create opportunities in the opening minutes, but it was Belgium who struck first, as they took the lead through captain, Barbara Nelen, in the third minute.
The hosts piled the pressure on India with their swift counter-attacks and earned two penalty corners in the 5th and 7th minutes, with the Indian defence riding their luck in preventing the second goal.
India earned their first penalty corner of the match in towards the end of the first quarter, but Rani's attempt went off target.
Trailing by a goal, India attempted a high press against the Belgian defence and midfield. They even created an opportunity in the opening minutes of the second quarter, but Neha's pass to Salima Tete inside the circle went wide.
The home side responded with a quick counterattack which helped them earn back-to-back penalty corners, but yet again missed out on converting their chances.
Belgium started the third quarter aggressively and earned a penalty corner in the 32nd minute but their attempt went wide of the goal post. In the 35th minute, Ambre Ballenghien found the back of the net to give the hosts a 2-0 lead. The Indian defence were caught off guard as Belgium took a long corner quickly and a pass inside the circle got the final touch from Ballenghien.
Not ones to give up easily, India put up an improvised attack that saw them converting one of their two chances at the start of the final quarter. After Ishka Choudhary's shot on target, it was young forward Lalremsiami who pulled a goal back for India in the 48th minute. She won the ball in the attacking quarter and calmly slotted it home.
India amped up the pressure on Belgium in their bid to score an equaliser in the closing stages of the match, but the home side kept the Indians at bay and sealed a 2-1 victory.
India square off against Belgium in their second leg of their Pro League double-header on June 12, with this result confirming Argentina as the league winners.