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BHUBANESWAR: In a heart-stopping end to a breath-taking quarterfinal, the Indian team defeated Belgium 3-2 in the shootout to enter their second ever semi-final of the Hockey World League Final here on Wednesday. The match ended 3-3 in regulation time and moved to shootout and there too, the teams ended on an even keel at 2-2. The result was then decided by sudden death with Akash Chikte denying Belgium after Harmanpreet Singh scored what turned out to be the winner.
You are never sure which Indian team will turn up for the game. They always surprise you. Trust them for that. Wednesday was another chapter in their long history of unpredictability and they saved their best for the top team on show at the HWL Final – Belgium. India were brilliant against Australia and ordinary against England and Germany. Against Belgium they were sparkling, again.
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Belgium have been the team to beat this tournament. The hosts needed to lift their game and commitment by several notches. They did just that.
Belgium were almost made to look ordinary in the first half as the Indian crowded them out with sustained pressure, continuously winning the ball. The defenders dived, put their body on the lines to put up a resolute resistance. From the midfield, captain Manpreet Singh was engineering the moves. And the forwards hared across as did SV Sunil in two occasions when Gurjant Singh raced ahead with the ball and unleashed two powerful crosses from either flank. On both the occasions, the final effort was wide.
Belgium though, as they have done on so many occasions this HWL FINAL managed to hold the ball more and at the beginning of the first quarter, seemed to have scored the opening goal. Only, the Indian team referred it for back stick from Belgium captain Thomas Biel and the decision went in their favour.
The team continued improving. Akashdeep won a high ball just on the edge of Belgium circle and Sunil took control of the bouncing ball for a searing reverse hit which the goalie kicked. The ball on rebound from a defender fell to Gurjant who tapped it in to bring the house down in the 31st minute.
Then, Lalit won India their second penalty corner of the match and for the first time in the tournament, they tried a variation. Manpreet injected and drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh played a cheeky back pass which was crashed between the legs of the goalie by Harmanpreet to double the lead four minutes later.
But the Olympic silver medallist came right back when tournaments’ top scorer Loick Luypaert converted a penalty corner in the 39th minute, scoring his seventh of the tournament to cut down the lead to one goal.
After being pushed back inside their half for quite some time in the third quarter, they managed to dispossess the Red Lions with Sumit sprinting ahead solo and penetrating the circle but was denied.
Belgium drew level in the right time after the start of final quarter as Luypaert converted a penalty corner to score his second of the night in the 46th minute. India responded brilliantly with Akashdeep winning India their third penalty corner immediately and Rupinder’s flick soared right inside the cage. India had again take the lead at 3-2.
But there is a reason why Belgium are regarded as one of the strongest teams as they found a way back when Amaury Keusters struck from the right and the ball went inside the goal after deflecting off Harmanpreet. The scoreline remained 3-3 with Belgium winning two more penalty corners but failing to score the winner with the contest moving into shootout.