Hockey World League: India sends Belgium packing

Cock-a-hoop: The Indians celebrate their quarterfinal victory over Belgium on Wednesday.  

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, the crowad at the Kalinga Stadium was the ‘12th man’ that ended the Olympic silver medallist’s dreams of advancing further in the Hockey World League Finals here on Wednesday, going down against an aggressive India 1-0 in sudden death after being tied 2-2 in the shootout and 3-3 in regulation time.

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 to field in the quarterfinals.

They knew it was a knockout and there would be no second chance. The team played like that.

It did everything it was criticised for not doing in the last two games, right from the word go, and even though chances were 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,” S.V. Sunil explained.

The counter-attacks are India’s most lethal weapon.

On Wednesday, it got enough chances to unsettle the Rio silver medallist. The other weapon in the hosts’ arsenal is the 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 is 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% possession proved him right.

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

No one had expected India to go 2-0 up against the World No. 3 side. But there was no stopping this side.

Interestingly, this is the second time in as many editions that India has accounted for the unbeaten side in the quarterfinals. 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.

Earlier in the day, defending champion Australia finally played the kind of attacking hockey it had been desperate for here, rode 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) (via sudden death).

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2021 11:38:58 PM |

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