Indian men’s hockey team’s hopes of securing a medal in hockey for the first time since 1980, ended on Sunday after Belgium defeated them 3-1 in the quarterfinals. Akashdeep Singh put India in front in the first quarter, but three second-half goals ended India’s run at the Rio Games.
After finishing fourth in Group B, Asian champions India took on Group A toppers Belgium, who have been unbeaten in the tournament, in the quarter-final clash in men’s hockey tournament at the Olympics. India had lost to Belgium 1-2 the last time they met in the Champions Trophy and needed a big effort to make it into the last-four. And that’s exactly what they did.
Belgium dominated the possession early on in the match and gave India no sniff at a goal in the opening minutes. India, on the other hand, seemed happy without the ball and sat back waiting for a chance to counter-attack. Although Belgium held the ball, they came nowhere near to a goal in the opening quarter.
It looked like both teams will end the first 15 minutes without a goal, but it all changed in the last minute. Manpreet Singh pushed a hopeful ball into the shooting circle, and Akashdeep Singh, who was standing right beside the Belgian goalie, deflected it into the net to open the scoring for India. The goal came out of nowhere for India, but coach Roelant Oltmans' tactics were spot on.
India repeated the same game in the second quarter, and almost had their second in the 22nd minute after Akashdeep Singh narrowly missed the goal from a reverse-stick shot. Belgium pushed and pushed ahead before the half-time break in search of a goal, but India held their defence tight to deny them. However, the Belgians received a penalty corner right before the end of the half as a result of their efforts. Lock Luypaert took the penalty corner for Belgium, but VR Raghunath rushed out fast to deflect the ball away.
The tactics from India looked perfect till half-time, but no one knew that it will be shredded into pieces after the break. Sébastien Dockier changed the complexion of the match in just 15 minutes and scored two goals – one at the start of the quarter and one at the end – to give Belgium the lead.
In the 33rd minute, the Belgian forward ran with the ball into the shooting circle and wriggled his way through three Indian defenders before striking one at the goal to beat PR Sreejesh at his right hand post. The next goal came in the last minute of the quarter, and once again the Indian defence was caught napping. Dockier found himself all alone beside Sreejesh and deflected one into the top right corner of the goal to give Belgians the lead. India’s tactics had failed, and they needed something new. In search of a goal, they moved out of the their defence, but it only ended with Belgium capitalizing on it to score their third. This time, it was Toom Boon, and he like Dockier, found himself alone in the middle to strike one powerful shot past Sreejesh. 1-3 and it was all over.
India removed Sreejesh in the last ten minutes and went for all-out attack, but it proved to be too little too late for the Asian champions.
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