India stun Britain, face Belgium in semis

The unpredictable hosts chose a good day to register their first victory in the Hockey World League Finals this season: they defeated Great Britain 2-1 to move into the semi-finals. Belgium, who overcame Argentina, will be their next opponents.

India will take on the winner of Argentina and Belgium in the semi-final.   -  Getty Images

India coach Roelant Oltmans has admitted he can never predict the Indian team. On Thursday, in the quarter-final of the Hockey World League Finals against Great Britain here, the one that turned up would be the one he would want every time as the hosts entered the semi-finals with a 2-1 victory, their first win in the tournament.

Their reward would be a semi-final against Belgium on Saturday, who beat Argentina by an identical margin in the other quarterfinal match. The Belgians neutralised Argentina's biggest weapon — penalty corners and Gonzalo Peillat — and the Pan-American champion faltered. They will now play Great Britain in the 5-8 place playoff.

The much maligned Indian forwards stood up to be counted and even though they got just one goal in – the other was a penalty corner conversion by VR Raghunath – they created enough chances to redeem themselves to an extent.

Youngster Mohammed Amir Khan, playing his first major tournament at the senior level, ran hard, tried one-touch hits at the top of the circle that missed the goal by inches and passed with accuracy. Talwinder Singh was shaky to begin with but got better. His goal in the 39th minute after receiving the ball on the right was impressive, the pass from Kothajit Singh at left half even more so. Even Ramandeep Singh, bearing the brunt of much criticism, was unlucky to see his well-timed shot come off the crossbar in the 36th minute.

It was an all-round performance from India, despite an off-colour Sardar Singh, with end-to-end action and a lot of turnovers. The Indian defence stood firm, especially in the face of a relentless wave in the last ten minutes that saw the British play without a goalkeeper for the final five. Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh lost count of the number of saves he brought about. But it was the third quarter that saw India stamp their domination on the game, bettering GB in every department.

England, impressive in their league games, were erratic. The shots were awry, the finishing was sloppy and the lone goal they scored came off a goalmouth melee than any well-thought out attempt as an unmarked Simon Mantell tapped in. They created chances, especially Nick Catlin on the left and Simon Mantell on the right – but it just wasn't GB's day.

Britain would also rue mistakes in basic passing and trapping, something ironically associated with the Indians for long. “We had our chances but the final pass wasn't there. India dictated the tempo for a long time and we ended up chasing more and more as the game went on,” admitted coach Bobby Crutchley.

That is not something India has been able to do too often. Five months ago, England had dismantled India 5-1 in Antwerp in the semi-finals of this tournament. On Thursday, the hosts kept control on their showmanship and stuck to a plan. Despite missing chances, the team did not lose the plot.

Oltmans was visibly proud of the effort but cautioned against getting carried away. “It's good that we are making it to the semi-finals of the major tournaments but I think it is now time to move into medal contention. We have been doing well in Game Four, we have to now better ourselves in Game Five,” he said. This would be the third straight semi-final in an FIH event in the last 12 months for India.

For that, though, he would be hoping the right Indian team turns up on that day.

The result (quarter-finals): India 2 (VR Raghunath, Talwinder Singh) bt Great Britain 1 (Simon Mantell); Belgium 2 (Alexander Hendrickx, Sebastien Dockier) bt Argentina 1 (Agustin Mazzilli).