Bhubaneswar: A resurgent India surged into the semifinals of the Men’s Hockey World League Finals (HWLF) after scripting a thrilling 6-5 victory over Pool A leaders Belgium in the quarterfinals at the Kalinga Stadium here, Wednesday.
Gurjant Singh (31st), Harmanpreet Singh (35th) and Rupinder Pal Singh (46th) scored for the hosts while Loick Luypayert (39th, 46th) and Amayury Keusters (53rd) kept Belgium in the game. In the ensuing regulation tie-break, the stalemate continued with both sides scoring two goals each. In the sudden death, Harmanpreet again scored while Arthur van Doren missed his chance.
Jubilant scenes were seen both on and off the pitch with the crowd going berserk with excitement after India’s memorable victory. The Indian Tigers deserved the applause for the way they played to tame the Red Lions.
India started well and put pressure on Belgium from the start. They missed a chance in the very first minute as Dipsan Tirkey failed to deflect a cross from the left into the Belgian goal. Harmanpreet also failed to capitalise on India’s first penalty corner in the fifth minute.
As the game progressed, Belgium slowly increased their tempo. John-John Dohmen scored a goal, but a video referral by the Indians saw it the lead nullified. Dohmen’s feet had touched the ball just before he took a hit and the Indians won their referral.
The Indians looked menacing at the beginning of the second quarter also. Playing the counter-attacking game to perfection they troubled the Belgian defence. They had a great chance to go ahead in the 18th minute, but SV Sunil’s attempt after a cross from the right flank missed the mark by inches. India earned their second penalty corner in the 29th minute, but their conversion woes continued.
After the change of ends, India proved why they are dangerous hosts. Backed by a vociferous crowd, Gurjant, put them one up, scoring off a goalmouth melee. Then suddenly it was 2-0 with Harmanpreet scoring off India’s second penalty corner and the crowd could not just contain their excitement.
But Belgium showed terrific grit even while two goals in arrears. Luypaert scored with a fierce hit after Belgium had earned their first penalty corner. It was his eighth goal of the tournament. He was again the rescuer when early on in the last quarter he scored his ninth goal of the tournament. On both occasions, he hit the ball to Suraj Karkera’s left, thereby flummoxing the opposition. Usually, drag-flickers hit to the right on most occasions.
However, off the resultant restart, India earned their eighth penalty corner and this time Rupinder made no mistake to restore India’s lead. But Belgium again came back strongly to restore parity through Keusters who scored a cheeky goal.
In the regulation tie-break, Lalit Upadhyay and Rupinder scored while Harmanpreet, Sumit and Akashdeep Singh missed. For Belgium, Arthur van Doren and Floren van Aubel hit the target. As luck would have been Harmanpreet scored in the sudden death while Van Doren failed to get past Chikte and with it Belgium’s hopes of a semifinal spot vanished.
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