India's golden run in the Tokyo Olympics 2021 was brought to a grinding halt in the semifinals. Belgium got the better of India 5-2 in a pulsating encounter at the Oi Hockey Stadium in Tokyo on Tuesday.
With gold and silver medal chances now gone, India will only be in contention for bronze when they take on either Australia or Germany on August 5.
Belgium came into the match after scoring a whopping 26 goals in the group stages and winning the quarterfinals 3-1 against Spain. Although they couldn't continue with the goalfest initially, they had enough in their armory to eventually tank three more goals than the Indians could.
Loick Fanny Luypaert of Belgium broke the deadlock early in the game. He sent a powerful drag-flick in right into the bottom left corner of the Indian goal, after the Belgians were awarded an early penalty corner.
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However, the lead was short-lived as India restored parity within 10 minutes, through a penalty corner. Harmanpreet Singh was on cue with a sensational drag-flick as the ball thudded into the bottom corner.
India took the lead in the next couple of minutes when Amit Rohidas swung in a lovely ball for Mandeep Singh to trap. The Indian captain unleashed a tomahawk which rocketed into the goal.
Both teams defended in numbers and relied on a pronged attack. India did try to counter-attack a couple of times through the flanks but the Belgium defense did enough to keep the Indian strikers at bay.
Belgium drew level at 2-2 in the 19th minute through a penalty corner when Alexander Hendrickx’s deceptive drag-flick foxed PR Sreejesh.
The equalizer did up the ante from both teams with Mandeep Singh being a livewire upfront for India. India came close to snatching the lead again but Dilpreet Singh was just inches away from a spectacular Mandeep Singh cross.
On the other side, Amit Rohidas and Harmanpreet Singh gave their all to block a couple of Hendrickx’s drag-flicks even as Sreejesh pulled off a spectacular save minutes before the teams went into the break.
India a shadow of themselves
Belgium came out all guns blazing and Antoine Kina looked to put Belgium ahead but his shot flew wide, much to the relief of the Indian dugout.
Mandeep Singh continued from where he left off in the first half with some good circle entries but he lacked support and a rock-solid Belgium defense thwarted all attempts.
Belgium pushed the pace of the game to their liking but a watertight Indian defense meant Kina and Hendrickx couldn’t do much inside the circle.
Arthur van Doren was then found guilty of infringement inside the circle but Harmanpreet Singh’s drag-flick was blocked well by Vincent Vanasch.
Dilpreet Singh found his way into the circle but lost the ball amidst a hullaballoo inside. Belgium did launch a counter-attack but Manpreet Singh made a superb tackle to stop the onslaught.
A goalless third quarter came to an end with neither team giving an inch to the other to dominate the proceedings.
India came out all guns blazing in the last 15 minutes when Gurjant Singh set up Lalit Upadhyay for a golden opportunity. However, the latter couldn’t pick the pass easily despite having a lot of time and space.
Thomas Briels and Hendrickx did make a couple of inroads but Sreejesh was determined not to let anything go past him.
A rough tackle saw Manpreet Singh being awarded a green card and the numerical disadvantage came to haunt the Indians again. Sreejesh was on cue to save two successive penalty corner shots from Hendrickx but the Belgium striker was on cue for a third to smash into the top right corner to make it 3-2.
The lead pumped up the men in white and they forced India on the backfoot with back-to-back penalty corners.
A penalty stroke for Belgium with just seven minutes left on the clock seemed to carve the result in stone as Hendrickx put it past Sreejesh to make it 4-2.
John Domen made it 5-2 with just seconds left on the clock as Belgium completed a resounding win against India.