Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh saved a penalty stroke in an exhilarating shoot-out after making some breathtaking saves in regulation time as the Indian men's hockey team stunned Olympic champions Belgium 5-4 in the first match of the two-legged FIH Pro Hockey League tie in Antwerp on Saturday.
The Indian team was down 1-3 with just eight minutes left in the match but made it 3-3 to force a penalty shoot-out. Sreejesh foiled an attempt from Alexander Hendrickx when the shoot-out was locked 4-4, after which Akashdeep Singh found the net to make it 5-4 for the Tokyo Games bronze medallists.
Sreejesh was brilliant under the bar, foiling a number of attempts from the hosts throughout the match but his two saves in the final quarter proved to be crucial.
An eventful first quarter ended in a goalless stalemate with Sreejesh making two impressive saves. It was India who had the first opportunity to open the scoring, but both short corners went a-begging as the home goalie foiled those attempts with his rock solid defence.
Early in the second quarter, India found the net when Abhishek's shot rebounded off the custodian's leg and Shamsher Singh (18') tapped the high ball into the net after it came off the post. Belgium found the equaliser soon after through Cedric Charlier (21'), who deflected a pass from Nicolas de Kerpel past Sreejesh.
The hosts broke the deadlock in the third quarter with Simon Gougnard (36') slotting a fierce hit home after being fed by Florent van Aubel, who controlled a high ball to push it towards his teammate.
Sreejesh saved India from a worsening scoreline when he made two heroic saves, parrying the ball away with his stick, stretched fully on his right. De Kerpel, though, finally breached the Indian defence with a furious hit off a penalty corner to make it 3-1 in the 50th minute.
India were given a lifeline in the match a minute later, when Manpreet Singh won a penalty stroke, which Harmanpreet converted.
Two minutes from the hooter, Jarmanpreet Singh found the equaliser through a short corner. India opted for a variation as Jugraj let it slip towards Jarmanpreet from behind his back after faking a stroke, and the latter blasted that into the net and make it 3-3 in regulation time. Sreejesh's heroics in the resulting shoot-out meant India earned a bonus point and are second in the table, 2 points behind leaders Netherlands, who have two games in hand.
Belgium and India face off once more on June 12, in the second leg of their FIH Pro League double-header.