India's luck runs out against Belgium: lose 2-5 in semi-final
New Delhi, August 3, 2021
India’s 41-year long wait for an Olympic hockey gold grew longer as the team ran out of luck and steam before going down 2-5 to world champions Belgium in the first semi-final of the men’s hockey competition at Oi stadium in Tokyo on Tuesday.
Riding on in-form drag flicker Alexander Hendrickx’s hat trick (19', 49', 53'), Belgium brought India’s four-match victory run to a halt and, in the process, recorded their third successive win over the former champions in as many Olympics.
Belgium had beaten India in London (2012) and Rio (2016) and again today in Tokyo (2021).
Indian played as well as they were allowed to by their fast and attacking rivals who forced 14 penalty corners, demonstrating their superiority over Indian defence and, but for veteran goalkeeper P R Sreejesh, the margin of defeat would have been much higher.
Belgium had a well laid out plan for this match. They knew their strength was in penalty corners and their forwards tried to earn as many penalty corners as possible and that strategy paid off.
Apart from the hat-trick by Alexander Hendrickx, goals by Loick Luyaert (2') and John-John Dohmen (60') helped Belgium book a place in the final.
For India, Harmanpreet Singh (7') and Mandeep Singh (9') scored the two goals.
India's hunt for a medal, however, will continue when they play the bronze medal play-off match on Thursday, 5 August
Both teams got off to a blistering start in the first quarter and.it was the world champions who took the lead in the 2nd minute as Loick Luypaert, with a powerful flick, scored a stunning goal.
India countered and were awarded back-to-back PCs in the 7th minute. Harmanpreet came up with a perfect drag-flick (1-1) scoring his 5th goal of the tournament.
India extended their lead to 2-1 in the 9th minute when a brilliant assist by Amit Rohidas was intercepted by Mandeep Singh who fired from top of the D.
In the early minutes of the second quarter Belgium earned PCs. India, defending with only three players plus the goalkeeper after Rupinder Pal was sent away by umpire as he moved forward before the umpire's whistle was blown, did not buckle under pressure and ensured a goal was kept at bay.
Belgium equalised in the 19th minute when Alexander Hendrickx converted his first PC of the match.
While India had more ball control, the Belgians created more chances. They also did exceptionally well to keep the rival midfield from connecting forward and allowing potential forays into the circle.
The third quarter was goalless as both teams couldn't convert from the chances they created. India's opportunity to take a lead in the 39th minute through a PC was defended well by the Belgians.
These 15 minutes seemed slightly dull compared to the first two quarters that saw tremendous tempo created by both teams who lived up to the billing of being hockey powerhouses of the world.
A 2-2 stalemate at the end of the third hooter meant the final quarter will be down to the wire. An early chance created by India went in vain when forward Lalit Upadhyay tried to win a PC but couldn't connect.
India conceded the lead in the 49th minute when Manpreet Singh was given a green card. At that stage, Belgium won three consecutive PCs. Alexander Hendrickx scored off the third attempt to make it 3-2.
Under pressure, India made infringements in the circle that gave away three more PCs in the following minutes. Though Sreejesh and Amit Rohidas were at the heart of the penalty corner defence, the third PC for Belgium turned into a penalty stroke. Hendrickx completed his hat-trick to give his side a 4-2 lead in the 53rd minute.
Though India made some incisive attempts to push for a goal, the solid Belgium were too hard to beat for the Indian forward line.
In the final minutes of the match, India chose to remove their goalie and put an extra attacker on the pitch, but the risk did not pay off. While Harmanpreet's crack drive was saved well by Vanasch with one minute left, Belgium scored their fifth goal on a counterattack. It was John-John Dohmen who struck the goal for Belgium, ending India's hopes of playing in an Olympic final.