Indian men’s hockey team suffered a heart-breaking 2-5 loss to Belgium in the semi-final of the Tokyo Olympics as their hopes of winning their first gold medal since 1980 were dashed by the defending world champions on Tuesday.
India got off to the worst possible start as Belgium scored early from a Penalty Corner through Loick Luypaert in the first quarter. It was a start that India would have dreaded against a team as talented as Belgium.
However, India’s response was good as they took the attack to Belgium to squeeze in a PC. India tried a variation that Belgium did well to defend but at a cost of another PC which was expertly converted by Harmanpreet Singh to make it 1-1.
With momentum on their side, India pushed hard again and were instantly rewarded as Mandeep Singh put India 2-1 up to complete a stunning tomahawk in the first quarter.
India missed an early chance from a PC in the second quarter and it was the boost that Belgium were looking for to bounce back into the game.
Belgium pinned India back in their own half and eked out a series of penalty corners, eventually converting the fourth one through Alexander Hendrickx to draw level at 2-2.
India were lucky to go into half time on level terms as Belgium squandered a few more chances on PCs. Manpreet Singh’s men had conceded seven PCs in just the first half.
India started the second half well winning a few PCs early in the third quarter but Belgium held firm at the back. The pace dropped as the third quarter progressed as hot conditions began to take their toll on the players.
The game was level going into the final quarter and just when it seemed that India would make their youth count against a slightly older Belgium, India suffered a blow when captain Manpreet Singh was shown a green card. Belgium took full advantage of their numerical advantage and pushed India deep in their own half.
A barrage of PCs followed and India defended well on most occasions but it proved to be one too many as Alexander Hendrickx finally made one count with eleven minutes left on the clock.
India struggled to wrestle back the momentum and Belgium continued to put pressure on the Indian goal. The pressure told as India conceded a penalty stroke that was finished off well Hendrickx to give Belgium a 4-2 lead.
In a desperate attempt to come back in the game, India took off Sreejech but barely had any rhythm in their play. With India committing men in attack, Belgium found the space behind the Indian defence and added a fifth goal in the final minute to put a sheen on an impressive victory for the defending world champions.
India competed well for most parts of the game but were blown away in the final quarter when Belgium showed their class. India conceded 14 PCs in the game which always spells trouble against a top team like Belgium.
India will now play the loser of the second semi-final between Australia and Germany for a bronze medal on Thursday.
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