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Tokyo 2020: India lose to Belgium, to fight for bronze

The men will be on hand, screaming encouragement, when the women’s team play their historic semi-final against Argentina on Wednesday.
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India lose to Belgium 2-5 in Men's Hockey sem-final at Tokyo Olympics 2020(PTI)
Published on Aug 03, 2021 10:06 PM IST
ByAvishek Roy, Tokyo

Sprawled on the blue turf of the Oi hockey stadium, exhausted and exasperated, they breathed hard as they lay on their backs under the hot sun.

Manpreet Singh and his men had pushed themselves — and had been pushed — to the limit against world champions Belgium. They had gone into the last quarter level at 2-2, and had then endured a harrowing barrage of attacks and penalty corners to lose 5-2.

When the dust settled, Belgium were through to their second straight Olympics final, and India, to their first medal match — a play-off for the bronze against Germany — since 1980.

The Tokyo heat made little difference to the teams in a thrilling semi-final contest that was played at a breathless pace. India, playing their first Olympic semi-final in 49 years, made a fierce start. Cheered on not just by their own support staff in an otherwise empty stadium, but also by the Indian women’s team and their coaching staff, India matched Belgium attack for attack.

Though it was Belgium who drew first blood, early in the second minute when Loick Fanny Luypaert converted a penalty corner, India responded with rapid forays into the opponent’s half. They were rewarded with back-to-back penalty corners, and Harmanpreet Singh slotted home with a powerful low drive in the 7th minute.

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Belgium were yet to settle down after the equaliser when India went 2-1 up. This time, it was a brilliant field goal set up by Amit Rohidas from the right flank. Receiving a ball from the midfield, Rohidas split open the defence with a cross that went straight to Mandeep Singh in front of goal. Singh, surrounded by defenders, stopped the ball, turned his back to the goal, and slapped a reverse tomahawk to send the ball past seasoned Belgium goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch for a fine finish.

Belgium, though, had an ace up their sleeve — their prolific and explosive drag-flicker Alexander Hendrickx, arguably the most accomplished player and prolific scorer in the world right now. The team centred their game around him, with fast, frequent forays into the striking circle to try and win penalty corners (PC), and it worked. Five PCs went Belgium’s way in the second quarter and Hendrickx scored off one to equalize.

Yet, things were going alright for India. They were creating chances, fighting for and getting plenty of possession, and looking strong in defence as they spiritedly thwarted one PC after another. What they didn’t do, pointed out coach Graham Reid, was take the chances they got.

“Belgians are the best team in the world with Australia,” Reid said. “You’ve got to keep building on that score but we didn’t do that. We had the opportunities but we didn’t take them and paid the price for not getting that scoreboard pressure on.”

Then came the big blow, something Reid and feared and warned the team to avoid — Manpreet got a green card three minutes into the 4th quarter, reducing India to 10 men for two minutes.

It was enough. Belgium attacked in waves, won three PCs, and Hendrickx scored with a powerfully angled shot off the last to give Belgium the lead. A few minutes later, Hendrickx completed his hat-trick by slotting home a penalty. It was four minutes of mayhem. India were left chasing and gasping for breath.

Rohidas made some good stops, rushing in and putting his body in the line and Sreejesh backed him up, but India were overwhelmed.

“These days teams are more switched on when the opposition has 10 players on the pitch and they took advantage of that,” Reid said. “Hockey is about gaining momentum and keeping it.”

The outcome was nearly sealed, but India chose to go for broke. They replaced Sreejesh with an attacker in the final few minutes, and ended up conceding a fifth with the goal unprotected.

When it was all over, the loss was hard to swallow because there was a period when India were ahead 2-1.

“They were better than us in the third and fourth quarters,” said Manpreet. “We were going to the D and it was getting a bit mixed. We were getting the penalty corners but we were not able to execute them. On the other hand, when they got an opportunity they scored.”

Manpreet said the team would be looking to put the defeat behind them and refocus for the bronze medal match.

“We still have an opportunity to return home with a medal, a bronze,” he said. “We’ll be doing our best to boost the team.”

And the men will be on hand, screaming encouragement, when the women’s team play their historic semi-final against Argentina on Wednesday.

Sprawled on the blue turf of the Oi hockey stadium, exhausted and exasperated, they breathed hard as they lay on their backs under the hot sun.

Manpreet Singh and his men had pushed themselves — and had been pushed — to the limit against world champions Belgium. They had gone into the last quarter level at 2-2, and had then endured a harrowing barrage of attacks and penalty corners to lose 5-2.

When the dust settled, Belgium were through to their second straight Olympics final, and India, to their first medal match — a play-off for the bronze against Germany — since 1980.

The Tokyo heat made little difference to the teams in a thrilling semi-final contest that was played at a breathless pace. India, playing their first Olympic semi-final in 49 years, made a fierce start. Cheered on not just by their own support staff in an otherwise empty stadium, but also by the Indian women’s team and their coaching staff, India matched Belgium attack for attack.

Though it was Belgium who drew first blood, early in the second minute when Loick Fanny Luypaert converted a penalty corner, India responded with rapid forays into the opponent’s half. They were rewarded with back-to-back penalty corners, and Harmanpreet Singh slotted home with a powerful low drive in the 7th minute.

Belgium were yet to settle down after the equaliser when India went 2-1 up. This time, it was a brilliant field goal set up by Amit Rohidas from the right flank. Receiving a ball from the midfield, Rohidas split open the defence with a cross that went straight to Mandeep Singh in front of goal. Singh, surrounded by defenders, stopped the ball, turned his back to the goal, and slapped a reverse tomahawk to send the ball past seasoned Belgium goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch for a fine finish.

RELATED STORIES

Belgium, though, had an ace up their sleeve — their prolific and explosive drag-flicker Alexander Hendrickx, arguably the most accomplished player and prolific scorer in the world right now. The team centred their game around him, with fast, frequent forays into the striking circle to try and win penalty corners (PC), and it worked. Five PCs went Belgium’s way in the second quarter and Hendrickx scored off one to equalize.

ALSO READ | Tokyo Olympics 2020 Full Coverage

Yet, things were going alright for India. They were creating chances, fighting for and getting plenty of possession, and looking strong in defence as they spiritedly thwarted one PC after another. What they didn’t do, pointed out coach Graham Reid, was take the chances they got.

“Belgians are the best team in the world with Australia,” Reid said. “You’ve got to keep building on that score but we didn’t do that. We had the opportunities but we didn’t take them and paid the price for not getting that scoreboard pressure on.”

Then came the big blow, something Reid and feared and warned the team to avoid — Manpreet got a green card three minutes into the 4th quarter, reducing India to 10 men for two minutes.

It was enough. Belgium attacked in waves, won three PCs, and Hendrickx scored with a powerfully angled shot off the last to give Belgium the lead. A few minutes later, Hendrickx completed his hat-trick by slotting home a penalty. It was four minutes of mayhem. India were left chasing and gasping for breath.

Rohidas made some good stops, rushing in and putting his body in the line and Sreejesh backed him up, but India were overwhelmed.

“These days teams are more switched on when the opposition has 10 players on the pitch and they took advantage of that,” Reid said. “Hockey is about gaining momentum and keeping it.”

The outcome was nearly sealed, but India chose to go for broke. They replaced Sreejesh with an attacker in the final few minutes, and ended up conceding a fifth with the goal unprotected.

When it was all over, the loss was hard to swallow because there was a period when India were ahead 2-1.

“They were better than us in the third and fourth quarters,” said Manpreet. “We were going to the D and it was getting a bit mixed. We were getting the penalty corners but we were not able to execute them. On the other hand, when they got an opportunity they scored.”

Manpreet said the team would be looking to put the defeat behind them and refocus for the bronze medal match.

“We still have an opportunity to return home with a medal, a bronze,” he said. “We’ll be doing our best to boost the team.”

And the men will be on hand, screaming encouragement, when the women’s team play their historic semi-final against Argentina on Wednesday.

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