Defending champions India reached the semifinals of the Men’s Junior Hockey World Cup with a 1-0 victory against Belgium in the quarterfinals in Bhubaneswar on Wednesday.
India scored the only goal of the match in the second quarter as they converted their first and only penalty corner of the night. It was a smart variation that worked to perfection, with Sanjay faking a drag flick which rounded up for Sharda Nand Tiwari who smashed in the goal.
Another key performer for India in the match was goalkeeper Pawan. Belgium were desperate for the equaliser in the final quarter of the match and attacked in waves. But it was Pawan who stood tall for India in the goal and made a number of remarkable saves.
India will now face Germany, the most successful side in the tournament’s history, in the semifinals, with Argentina taking on France in the other last four clash.
Six-time champions Germany and Argentina earned hard-fought wins over Spain and Netherlands respectively, while France cruised past Malaysia to enter the semifinals. Germany needed an equaliser with seconds left before winning a shootout while Argentina prolonged Netherlands’ wait for this title courtesy a late own goal.
India, who beat Belgium 2-1 in the final en route to their title triumph in the last edition in Lucknow in 2016, relied on a solid defensive showing and their brilliance with penalty corner conversion so far this tournament.
Recovering from a start
The Belgians started aggressively and created pressure on the Indian defence in the first few minutes. As coach Graham Reid put it, India were late to wake up for the match.
But the Indian backline produced good men-to-men marking and stayed calm under pressure to deny Belgium. In the 13th minute Belgium had the first shy at the goal but Indian custodian Prasanth Chauhan was up to the task to deny Thibeau Stockbroekx from close range.
India’s first scoring chance came just seconds from the first quarter through a creative Uttam Singh, but his effort was kept at bay by Belgium goalkeeper Boris Feldheim.
India kept growing in confidence as the match progressed and six minutes into the second quarter, secured their first penalty corner, which was converted by Tiwari.
Tiwari was brilliantly set by vice-captain Sanjay Kumar’s spinning-assist and the dragflicker made no mistake in putting the ball into the net.
Two minutes later, Manjeet hit the side netting with a reverse hit.
Belgium got a penalty corner in the 26th minute but Jeff de Winter’s flick went wide as India went into half time leading by a slender 1-0 margin.
The Belgians came out attacking in the third quarter but failed to break the resolute and determined Indian defence. There were no clear cut chances for both the teams in the third quarter, but the Indians were guilty of holding on to the ball, resulting in less open chances.
The Belgians went all out in the fourth and final quarter and controlled the proceedings but the Indian defence did enough to thwart their opponents. In the 50th minute, India’s second goalkeeper Pawan made a brilliant diving save to his right to keep Roman Duvekot’s attempt away from the goal.
Trailing, Belgium continued to press hard and secured a penalty corner in the 52nd minute, which was saved by the Indian defence.
Three minutes from the final hooter, Belgium withdrew their goalkeeper for an extra player and also secured a penalty corner just two minutes from whistle, but once again, Pawan made a fine save to deny de Winter.
In the end, the hosts were full value for the win as they continued to recover and stay on track from the opening day defeat against France.
(With PTI inputs)
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