FIH Hockey World League Final 2017 : Akash Chikte helps India edge past Belgium in thrilling shootout
India seal a place in the semifinals by prevailing over Belgium in a riveting encounter.
In what was one of the most thrilling matches in recent times, India overcame Belgium in their quarterfinal in the 2017 edition of the FIH Hockey World League Final at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneshwar.
After the scoreline was tied at 3-3 at the end of regulation time, India relied on goalkeeper Akash Chikte's heroics to edge past Belgium in the thrilling shootout. By virtue of their exhilarating 3-2 victory in the penalty shootout, the 'Men in Blue' sealed a place in the semi-finals.
Unlike the previous matches, the Indian team was in a better shape and hence managed to live up to the high expectations of a packed arena. The Belgians were surprised with the Indian defence which denied the swift attackers during the first two quarters.
In the 31st minute, Junior World Cup star Gurjant Singh gave India the lead with a deft goal past goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch. The home team's happiness was doubled when star defender Harmanpreet Singh converted a penalty corner into a brilliant goal.
However, Belgium were far from finished. Bouncing back in their usual style, the silver medalists from Rio Olympics 2016 struck their first goal through a penalty corner from the in-form Loick Luypaert.
In the 46th minute, India extended their lead to 3-1 as experienced drag flicker Rupinder Pal Singh converted another penalty corner into a stunning goal. But their happiness was short lived as Belgium struck another goal in the same minute. Luypaert scored his eighth goal of the competition to reduce the hosts' lead to 3-2. Amaury Keusters leveled the score 3-3 through a field goal in the 53rd minute and the match went into a shootout.
India's key player of the evening turned out to be Akash Chikte. Belgium missed their first three chances in the shootout. In all, the 25-year old goalkeeper conceded only the last two goals to Florent Van Aubel and Arthur Van Doren.
From the Indian camp, only Lalit Kumar Upadhyay and Rupinder Pal Singh managed to score from their respective first attempts. The likes of Harmanpreet Singh, Sumit Kumar and Akashdeep Singh all bit the dust. Akashdeep's miss forced the shootout to stretch to sudden death.
In the sudden death, Harmanpreet made amends for his previous mistake by scoring a crucial goal to put his team on front. Chikte superbly saved the shot of Arthur Van Doren to propel India to a memorable victory and the accompanying ticket to the semifinals.
India will now meet the winner of the quarterfinal between England and Argentina.