India are set to face Belgium in the semi-finals of the men’s hockey event at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
India’s dream of winning a first Olympic gold medal in 41 years moved a step closer to reality with a battling win in the quarter-final win against Great Britain. But the task is only getting harder.
Belgium and India joined Germany and Australia in the semi-finals of the men’s hockey competition at the Olympic Games after winning their respective quarter-final matches on Sunday evening to establish two mouth-watering clashes in the final four.
“We are so happy because after a long time we are reaching a semi-final”, said India skipper Manpreet Singh. “Still, the business hasn’t finished yet. Still we have two more games so we need to focus, we need to have our feet on the ground and we need to focus on the next match.”
India have made the semi-finals of the Olympics after 49 years with their last medal coming in the 1980 Summer Games.
Pool B winners Belgium were given a huge scare by a Spanish team that finished fourth in Pool A but were too strong eventually. Spain held a a 1-0 lead at half time before the reigning world champions and Rio 2016 silver medallists fought back to claim a 3-1 win.
Belgium & India team stats at Tokyo 2020
India tasted success against Belgium in the FIH Hockey Pro League in 2020 when they beat the world champions 2-1 in their second game and lost 2-3 in the first.
Prior to that, India had taken on Belgium in Test Matches where they beat them 5-1, 2-1 and 2-0 in 2019.
At the World Cup in Bhubaneswar in 2018, the Indian team had drawn 2-2 in their Pool C encounter against Belgium and had secured a 1-1 draw in the FIH Champions Trophy in Breda the same year, when India won a silver.
But in a tournament like the Olympics, head-to-head stats make little difference, said skipper Manpreet.
“As far as Belgium is concerned, obviously they and Australia have been sharing the World No 1 spot for the last 18-24 months. So, in that sense, Belgium will be a very difficult opponent.
“But we have played them a fair bit in the past and have the experience of doing well against them too. So, we need to focus on the things that we can do against them and make sure that we are much more disciplined in defence and our structure is much better,” said Manpreet.
Looking back at the first week in Tokyo, Manpreet highlighted the squad’s spirit to fight back.
“If you look back at the week, and what this group has been through, I think we showed a lot of determination and the willingness to fight particularly in the game last night. That’s a real plus. We are going to need that same fighting spirit against Belgium,” he said.
India coach Graham Reid said he was happy with the 3-1 victory against Great Britain in the quarter-final but he also highlighted that getting two green cards and one yellow card in the game is something the team must avoid against Belgium.
“We fought hard and sometimes that is what you have to do in final situations of a crunch game like the quarter-inal. You have to fight, bite and scratch. We were very lucky because they (Great Britain) created more opportunities than us but our PC defence and Sreejesh especially were magnificent last night. They saved us,” said the Australian coach.
“But looking forward, the things we can learn is that there is a difference between passion and emotion. Sometimes, we let our emotions take over. We need to keep 11 players on the pitch. The problem is that we played a lot of our game against Great Britain with 10 men on the pitch. We can’t do that against Belgium and think that we can be victorious. That will be the big message to the team today when we have a meeting,” added Reid.
India’s semi-final clash with Belgium will start at 7am IST on Tuesday, August 3.
Inputs from PTI
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