In a breath-taking quarterfinal, India got the better of Belgium with a 3-2 scoreline in shootout to enter the semis of the Hockey World League Final in Bhubaneswar on Wednesday. The match ended with 3-3 in regulation time and was decided in sudden death with Harmanpreet Singh scoring the winner.
India showcased a brilliant performance against Australia in the first group match, but their form went downhill in the following games against England and Germany. However, when the big occasion came, Indian came out all guns blazing against the top team in the tournament – Belgium.
In the first quarter, India put a sustained pressure on Belgium by continuously winning the ball and putting their body on the line to keep a resolute resistance. While skipper Manpreet Singh controlled the game from mid-field, SV Sunil created two chances in the first two quarters. Although Belgium's defence did well to restrict the Indians from scoring, their forwards looked complacent and ineffective.
After half-time, India took the lead when Sunil blasted a shot that Belgium goal-keeper Vincent Vanasch blocked with his pads, but Akashdeep Singh swiftly sent the rebound to Gurjant Singh at the goalmouth, and the latter tapped it in to keep his brilliant form going. Four minutes later, the hosts doubled the lead through a cheeky conversion of a penalty corner as Rupinder Pal Singh passed the ball between his legs to Harmanpreet Singh, who netted without any difficulty.
For Belgium, Loick Luypaert, the tournament’s highest scorer, narrowed India’s lead by converting his sixth penalty corner to make it 2-1. He waited until the last minute after receiving the ball to lash it to the left corner of the Indian net. Belgium drew level at the right time after the start of the final quarter as Luypaert converted a penalty corner to score his second goal of the night in the 46th minute.
India responded brilliantly with Akashdeep winning India their third penalty corner almost immediately and Rupinder's flick soared right inside the cage. India had again taken the lead at 3-2. However, Belgium found a way back when Amaury Keusters scored a goal in the 53rd minute of the game ending it at 3-3 with the contest moving into the shoot-out.
The eventful game took another turn when the teams ended on an even keel at 2-2. The result was finally decided by sudden death with Akash Chikte denying Belgium and Harmanpreet Singh scoring, which turned out to be the winner.