Belgium's Red Lions continued their impressive run in Odisha Men's Hockey World League Final 2017 here on Sunday, claiming a second successive victory to take control of Pool A on Day 3 of the event.
Red Lions (FIH Hero World Ranking: 3) claimed a 5-0 win against the Red Sticks of Spain (WR: 9), adding another three points to those collected in Saturday's triumph over Olympic gold medallists Argentina.
While the Belgians were seen as the pre-match favourites, Spain's impressive win over the Netherlands on Saturday ensured that they had good reason to feel confident about their own prospects.
Belgium needed just three minutes to make the first mark on the scoreboard when Floren van Aubel dived at full stretch to squeeze in a shot from a tight angle, making the most of an opportunity created by Red Lions captain Thomas Briels.
Spain gave as good as they got in their opening two periods before Loick Luypaert netted a rasping penalty corner drag-flick midway through the third quarter to give Belgium breathing space.
Three goals in the final three minutes of the match perhaps gave a rather flattering look to the score-line, with Luypaert completing his hat-trick.
The win has given Belgium six points, ensuring that they would finish the day three points clear of their nearest rivals even before the start of the evening match between Olympic champions Argentina and European champions the Netherlands.
Talented Dutch youngster Thierry Brinkman showed a killer instinct in front of goal in the 12th minute, smashing home the opening goal of the game with a wonderful first time strike past onrushing Argentina goalkeeper Juan Vivaldi.
The Netherlands doubled their lead in the third quarter when Valentin Verga was allowed to charge into the circle unchallenged before unleashing a vicious shot into the bottom right corner, giving the Rio 2016 Olympic gold medallists a mountain to climb.
It was a challenge that Los Leones accepted wholeheartedly, dragging themselves level with two improvised goals following mis-trapped penalty corners. Matias Rey netted just before the end of the third quarter, with the influential Lucas Vila brilliantly converting a close-range deflection into the top corner with ten minutes remaining.
The Netherlands moved back ahead with five minutes left to play when Mirco Pruijser scored from a penalty corner, but Argentina refused to be beaten and claimed a dramatic 3-3 draw thanks to yet another crucial penalty corner strike from Gonzalo Peillat with less than a minute remaining. It was a fitting conclusion to a thrilling game that was enjoyed by another big crowd at Bhubaneswar's Kalinga Stadium, although the result left both teams in the bottom half of the Pool A table.
"If you are two goals ahead and then one goal up with half a minute to play then you really should win the game, so we'll need to take a look at that but it was a good game to watch", said Joep de Mol of the Netherlands, the Junior Player of the Match, presented by ONGC. "It is nice to get the appreciation with the junior prize, but I'd prefer to have win 3-2 and somebody else gets the award." ??
RESULTS - DAY 3
Pool A: Belgium 5, Spain 0.
Man of the Match: Arthur van Doren (BEL)
Junior Player of the match: Arthur de Sloover (BEL)
Pool A: Netherlands 3, Argentina 3.?
Man of the Match: Valentin Verga (NED)
Junior Player of the Match: Joep de Mol (NED)
The competition continues on December 4 with two matches in Pool B. Reigning world and Hockey World League champions Australia face England at 17:30 Indian Standard Time (UTC: +5.30) before home favourites India take on pool leaders Germany at 19: 30.
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