HWL: India goes down to Belgium in semis

Belgium would now take on World champion Australia in the title clash on Sunday while India has a tough ask in the battle for bronze against the Dutch, having already lost to them 1-3 in the league stage.

Cedric Charlier (second from right) celebrates after scoring the goal.   -  Getty Images

India's semi-final woes at major tournaments continued as the host went down to Belgium by a solitary goal in the Hockey World League Finals here in a scrappy encounter on Saturday.

Belgium would now take on World champion Australia in the title clash on Sunday while India has a tough ask in the battle for bronze against the Dutch, having already lost to them 1-3 in the league stage. All of India's old demons came back to haunt them—holding the ball too long, erratic trapping and passing and failing to spot a team-mate ahead.

A fifth minute reverse shot by Cedric Charlier through goalkeeper P. R. Sreejesh's legs after being put through by Jerome Truyens was enough for Belgium to book its maiden final spot. It was a scrappy game, like all Belgium encounters have been here, but the Indians made them look good.

Indians looked unstructured

For the first two quarters, the Indian team ran all over the place haphazardly without a single decent shot at the goal. India got a lone penalty corner in the match in the 10th minute and it was cancelled on referral by the Belgians. Other than that, there was a lot of unfocussed hard work by the host that produced little results.

India's famed midfield was nowhere in the picture. Birendra Lakra had a mediocre day, failing to even trap or control the ball—forget about creating openings. Sardar Singh pumped in the balls but was not effective. Manpreet Singh failed to break past the defence. The attack was all but absent. The defence barely held up but, barring that one error, managed to thwart the red Lions else the margin could have been much higher.

Strategic coach Roger Van Gent kept yelling at the Indians to pass and move on but the players were in their own zone, doing their own thing. Coach Roelant Oltmans alternately had a look of anguish and astonishment but there was little he could do.

Better play after the break

Post break, India came out a different team. There were a lot more attacks, there was some semblance of a structure and the team tried to get into the striking circle a lot more. In fact, the third quarter was all about Indian domination while the fourth saw a desperate India throw everything it had at the opposition including taking out Sreejesh to add an extra man upfront. The misfiring strikers, though, were unable to convert those chances as Belgium stuck deep in its own half to defend the thin lead. Credit must also go to its defenders who managed to avoid conceding penalty corners despite a crowded D for the last 10 minutes.

A day before the game, India had skipped field practice to work on its gameplan. On Saturday, there was little by way of execution as India's wait for a major final continues.

The result (semifinal): Belgium 1 (Cedric Charlier) bt India 0.