India’s hopes of snatching gold at the Olympics after 41 years went up in smoke as they were beaten 2-5 by Belgium in the men’s hockey semi-finals, at Oi Hockey Stadium in Tokyo, on Tuesday.
The Belgians scored thrice from penalty-corners and a ‘stroke’ to snatch a berth in the final.
Alexander Hendrickx (19th, 49th, 53rd minutes), the tournament’s leading scorer, registered a hat-trick while Loick Luypaert (2nd minute) and John-John Dohmen (60th) were also on target as the defending Olympics silver-medallists made their second successive entry to the final.
For India, who led 2-1 at one stage, Harmanpreet Singh scored from a penalty corner and Mandeep Singh from a field goal.
The Indians, whose last appearance in the final at the Olympics was way back in 1980 at Moscow, where they went on to win the last of their eight gold medals, put up a tremendous fight, but were beaten by a fitter, superior and better-organized team. They had their moments of ascendency but it was not enough to unsettle the World champions, who forced 14 penalty-corners, from which they converted four.
India earned five penalty corners but could score off just one. That was the difference between the two teams
Belgium forced their first penalty corner in the second minute after Felix Denayer sent the ball into the circle and Rupinder Singh’s deflected it with his foot. Lupayert scored with a perfect drag-flick for his first goal of the tournament.
India got their first penalty-corner following a referral soon after but messed it up as Vivek was unable to stop the ball cleanly.
Another penalty corner followed in the seventh minute and this time around Harmanpreet Singh sounded the board with a powerful flick through the legs of a Belgian defender on the goal line. It was his fifth goal in the tournament.
Mandeep Singh then made it 2-1 two minutes later following a pass from Amit Rohitdas. He turned around and fired with a reverse tomahawk hit. The Belgians asked for a review for a back stick, but the goal stayed.
India forced their third penalty corner in the 10th minute, but Rupinder Pal’s flick was well-saved by Belgian goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch.
A goal down, the Belgians came up aggressively in the second quarter. They stormed the Indian circle in the first few minutes and forced three successive penalty corners but India defended well through Amit Rohidas.
They continued to dominate and forced another penalty-corner after Hardik Singh’s foot made contact with the ball and this time Alexander Hendrickx stepped to take the set-piece drill and fired home to make it 2-2 in the 19th minute.
Shreejesh denied the Belgians twice, getting his hand to the rising shot, to see India through to half-time on even terms.
The start of the third quarter saw the hectic activity as Belgium tried to hurry the Indian defenders into errors in their bid to force penalty corners. But it was the Indians who forced one after breaking away down the right in the 38th minute. The Belgians went for a referral and were denied. Manpreet, however, was unable to make it count with his flick.
Belgium continued to attack but India defended well to keep the score 2-2 at the end of the third quarter.
India was down to ten men in the 48th minute after Manpreet Singh was shown the green card and immediately after his exit from the field the Belgians forced three successive penalty-corners and scored from the third through Hendrickx, who increased his goal tally to 13 in the tournament.
With the intensity of Belgian attacks increasing the Indian defenders’ shoulders began to droop in the humid conditions and Belgium scored their third goal from another penalty corner through Hendrickx.
With six minutes to go for the hooter, India conceded another penalty-corner from which followed a ‘stroke’. Hendrickx took it and scored to make it 4-2 for Belgium.
John Dommen then added another in the last minute to complete the route.