HWL Finals: India trumps Belgium in thriller

India knew it was a knockout encounter and there would be no second chances. And the team played like that.

The Indians did everything right from the word go.   -  PTI

The Belgians had been unbeaten so far but then they had not yet played in front of a packed, vocal 10,000-strong crowd supporting the opposition. In the end, those 10,000 people packing the stands at the Kalinga Stadium were the 12th man as the Olympic silver medalist went down against an aggressive India 1-0 in sudden death after being tied 2-2 in the shootout and 3-3 in regulation time.

Read: As the action unfolded

It was an atmosphere the Belgians had never played in. “The entire stadium screaming India, India all through the match, it was crazy. I would say they won the match for India,” a disappointed goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch had no qualms admitting after the game. It was also a different Indian team that took the field in the quarterfinals.

The 12th man in the stands would remain critical for the team to go further than the bronze in 2015.   -  PTI


They knew it was a knockout encounter and there would be no second chances. The team played like that. It did everything it has been criticised for not doing in the last two games, right from the word go, and even though there were chances still fluffed, they didn't matter in the end.

The rhythm was back. The counter-attacks came easy. “Their zonal play gave us space but then they had to. Our defence was very strong and they had to move around seeking space themselves. We made use of it,” SV Sunil explained.

The counter-attacks are India's most lethal weapon. On Wednesday, it got enough chances to unsettle the Rio silver medalist. The other weapon in the host's arsenal is its multitude of penalty corner experts. The team, aiming direct hits so far and failing miserably, switched gears and the strategy. There were variations attempted, dummies used and India converted two of its four PCs.

It's true that statistics are illusionary. But coach Sjoerd Marijne had also claimed that possession was not more important than goals. That India managed 15 penetrations to Belgium's 13 despite a meagre 38 percent possession proved him right.

Twice in the first five minutes, SV Sunil failed to deflect the ball at the far post after receiving the ball from Gurjant Singh on either flank. Gurjant, among the best players, finally decided to get himself on the scoresheet instead, tapping in immediately on the resumption of the second half, after Sunil's first shot was saved by Belgian goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch and Arthur van Doren was a split second late in clearing the rebound.

But, credit to the Belgians, they never gave up. They fought back through two PCs by Loick Luypaert, the top-scorer so far with eight goals but he finally faltered, missing two chances in the final three minutes as the game went into shootouts.

Belgium missed three but scored two, and now India stumbled to only level despite Akash Chikte bringing off three stupendous saves. He did it a fourth time in the sudden death to finally end the proceedings.

The trivia would read India avenging its quarterfinal defeat at the Rio Olympics to the same opposition. It would also read that there were 11 players from either side on the pitch.

But the 12th man in the stands would remain critical for the team to go further than the bronze in 2015.

Australia thumps Spain

Earlier in the day, defending champion Australia finally played the kind of attacking hockey it had been desperate for here, riding on Blake Govers' twin strike to win 4-1 against Spain in the first quarterfinal.

The results (quarterfinals): Australia 4 (Blake Govers 2, Jeremy Hayward, Aaron Kleinschmidt) bt Spain 1 (Marc Garcia); India 3 (Gurjant Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Rupinderpal Singh) bt Belgium 3 (Loick Luypaert 2, Amaury Keusters) in sudden death.
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