Breaking: 34th Champions Trophy: India pip Belgium 1-0 to reach semifinals
Belgium have become a bit of bogey team for India in recent times. First, they spoiled India’s chances of securing a direct entry into the Champions Trophy by snatching a pulsating come-from-behind 4-3 win (through a last-gasp goal by Tim Boon) in the 2011 FIH Champions Challenge 1 final in Johannesburg. Second, they aggravated the wounds of an already battered Indian outfit by consigning them to their fifth successive defeat at the London Olympics, with an emphatic 3-0 romp.
It’s a different matter altogether that India made it to the 2012 Champions Trophy tournament on a wild card invitation.
Revenge was the buzzword for the blue shirts as they took the State Netball Hockey Centre park against Belgium.
And, it was what India exacted, riding on an early Nithin Thimmaiah goal to sneak past Belgium by a solitary goal to book their spot in the semifinals of the 2012 Champions Trophy.
India would now play the winner of the Australia-England quarterfinal match in the semifinals on Saturday.
Both teams exercised caution in the first ten minutes of play and looked to size each other up. Just when both teams seemed to be settling down, the match was much enlivened when rookie Nithin Thimmaiah made the most of a poor clearance to put India ahead in the 12th minute.
Belgium offered a strong riposte, asking repeated questions to the Indian defence.
The men in red earned a penalty corner in the closing stages of the first half but failed to profit from it as Indian goalkeeper PT Rao pulled off a fine save, as India went into half time with the slender solitary goal lead.
Belgium tried to press hard in the second half and orchestrated some decent moves, but the Indian defence weathered all that with aplomb. India earned a penalty corner in the 50th minute but vice captain Vokkaliga Raghunath slammed it wide.
Both teams endured jittery moments towards the end as one team strived for the insurance goal, while the other tried hard to restore parity.
Belgium forced a penalty corner six minutes from the final hooter. Goalkeeper Rao brought off a superb save to help India maintain the winning lead even as they played with nine men.
Belgium continued to keep their feet on the accelerator, forcing another penalty corner in the 68th minute, but Tim Boon – the man who denied a direct Champions Trophy ticket scoring the last-gasp goal – banged it wide.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and Belgium went by that saying, sacrificing their goalkeeper for an extra attacker, but it went in vain as the final hooter was soon blown, announcing India’s passage to the Champions Trophy semifinals.