Bhubaneshwar: India have achieved the primary objective of the Hockey World Cup 2018: qualifying for the quarter-finals by beating Canada 5-1 and topping the group.
But not without a few hiccups.
Belgium and Canada, the second- and third-placed teams of Pool C, will now need to win their crossover matches on Tuesday to reach the quarter-finals.
After Belgium defeated South Africa 5-1 in the day’s earlier match, India needed a win to top the group and it looked like the hosts could struggle in that endeavour when the Canadians equalised in the third quarter, having restricted the Indians to just one goal in the first half.
But Lalit Kumar Updhayay (47th and 57th minute), Chinglensana (46th) and Amit Rohidas (51st) found the net in quick succession in the fourth quarter to put the result beyond doubt and take the Indians directly in the quarterfinals.
Earlier, Canada’s strategy to sit back and not allow the Indians space seemed to work for the first few minutes of the game. The Indian defenders passed the ball among themselves for a while to lure the Canadians to their half. But they didn’t take the bait.
India, then, resorted to aerial passes – a plan that helped them infiltrate the Belgian defence last Sunday. It worked on Saturday, too. Soon, they got their first penalty corner. But Harmanpreet Singh’s drag-flick was cleared away by the rushing defender.
But, in a little while, India got another chance to pull away from Canada. This time, the execution of the short corner was perfect. Skipper Manpreet Singh injected the ball, Sumit trapped and Harmanpreet, the highest scorer for India off penalty corners since 2014, drag-flicked it into to the bottom left corner.
Buoyed by the goal, they launched another attack, earning their third penalty corner. But an an unconventional attempt — wherein they avoided the drag-flick — didn’t yield another goal.
Belgium found the equaliser in the 39th minute when Floris van Son scooped the ball past Indian ‘keeper PR Sreejesh. The build-up to this goal started in Belgium’s half. Gordon Johnston stole the ball from Simranjeet Singh near the 23-metre line, sprinted along the left flank and tomahawked it to James Wallace. Wallace made a deft sidestep to dodge Chinglensana and passed the ball diagonally to an unmarked van Son, who made a brilliant finish.
But it was Chinglensana, who put India in the lead again. Kothajit Singh’s hit from the right flank was deflected towards the net by Dilpreet Singh. But the Belgian ‘keeper Antoni Kindler padded it to Chinglensana, who, from the edge of the circle, hit a fierce, low drive to the left corner of the net.
This goal and the charged up crowd at the Kalinga stadium, seemed to energise the Indian attack as they struck three more times in the last quarter. Lalit Upadhyay capitalised on a defensive error to slot in the third goal for India and Amit Rohidas scored the fourth off a penalty corner.
Canada were reduced to 10 men after James Kirkpatrick got a yellow card in the 55th minute. India capitalised and scored another one through Upadhyay to complete the scoreline.