The Manpreet Singh-led side could not capitalize on a spirited start.
India’s hopes of playing in an Olympic final were dashed by the formidable Belgium squad who came back from a 1-2 deficit to beat the Manpreet Singh-led Indian team 5-2 in the 1st semi-final of men’s hockey in Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday.
It was a hat-trick by Alexander Hendrickx (19′, 49′, 53′), and goals by Loick Luyaert (2′) and John-John Dohmen (60′) that 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 2021, against the losing team from the second semi-final between Australia and Germany.
Earlier in the match, both teams got off to a blistering start in the first quarter. While there was early pressure from Indian attackers, it was the World Champions who drew first blood in only the 2nd minute of the game. It was Loick Luypaert stepping up to take the flick and scored a stunning goal. The sheer power and speed with which it was flicked away made it unstoppable for the Indian PC defence.
Indian hockey team however, were quick to respond to the early 0-1 setback when they were awarded back-to-back PCs in the 7th minute. It was Harmanpreet Singh who came up with a perfect dragflick, scoring his 5th goal of the tournament. The Men in Blue extended their lead to 2-1 in the 9th minute when a brilliant assist by Amit Rohidas was picked up beautifully by Mandeep Singh who struck a tomahawk from top of the D.
The first quarter continued to be action-packed with Belgium attackers gunning for a 2-2 equaliser, but India held on to the ball possession. India, on the other hand, won yet another PC in the 11th minute but Rupinder Pal Singh flick was saved well by Belgian goalie Vincent Vanasch.
The early minutes of the second quarter saw the Belgium hockey team being awarded PCs. India, defending with only three players plus the goalkeeper after Rupinder Pal was sent away by the 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 their leading goal scorer Alexander Hendrickx took his first PC of the match and did brilliantly to hood-wink India’s experienced goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, sending a powerful flick to the right bottom of the post. Though India continued to dominate the ball possession, the Belgians created more chances.
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.
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. Things went against India in the 49th minute when Skipper Manpreet Singh was given a green card. This was when the Belgians won three consecutive PCs. Alexander Hendrickx, their worldclass draflicker, scored off the third attempt to put Belgium ahead once again by 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 India’s PC defence, the third PC for Belgium turned into a penalty stroke. Hendrickx stepped up to convert it and completed his hat-trick of goals as he fetched Belgium a formidable 4-2 lead in the 53rd minute. Though India made valiant attempts to push for a goal, a well-structured Belgium defence was too hard to beat for India’s 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 materialize. While Harmanpreet’s tomahawk 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 in hockey.