A lacklustre India squandered a one goal advantage to go down 1-3 to Belgium in the quarterfinals and crashed out of the men’s hockey competition of the Rio Olympics.
Eight-time gold medallist India, thus, blew away a great opportunity to create history after a hiatus of 36 years to climb the medal podium.
Belgium, on the other hand, scripted history as they progressed to the semi-finals of the Olympics after a gap of 96 years.
India took the lead through a fine field effort from Akashdeep Singh (15th minute) before Belgium pumped in three field goals from Sebastien Dockier (34th, 45th) and Tom Boon (50th) to dash India’s hopes of their first medal after the gold in 1980 at Moscow.
Having topped Pool A, Belgium were the favourites to win the encounter and they played like champions dominating the proceedings for most part of the game barring a few minutes in the second quarter after India took the lead late in the first quarter.
India, on the other hand, looked completely out of sorts as they played catch-up hockey.
The forwardline cut a sorry figure as they hardly created any chances which could be gauged from the fact that India failed to earn a single penalty corner in the entire 60 minutes.
The defence too found it tough to keep check of the rampaging Belgium forwardline, who mounted relentless attacks on the Indian goal.
With Belgium strikers on full press, India adopted a defence approach and relied more on counter attacks.
Belgium had the first shot at goal in the 13th minute when a try by Dockier, their best player of the day, was saved by Indian goalkeeper PR Sreejesh.
But India broke the deadlock in the final minute of the first quarter against the run of play through Akashdeep who got a deft deflection to a Manpreet Singh pass inside the circle to go into the break on a high.
Leading 1-0, India made a composed start in the second quarter and controlled the game for a brief period.
In this small passage of time India created a two good scoring chances.
In the 22nd minute, Ramandeep’s perfect lob found SV Sunil on the left flank but his cross was just out of reach of Nikkin Thimmaiah.
Sunil was again in the thick of action when his perfect cross found an unmarked Akashdeep inside the circle but his reverse hit went just wide.
One-and-a-half minutes from the end of second quarter, Belgium had two chances to draw level — first their captain John-John Dohmen was denied by Sreejesh and then 15 seconds from half time they wasted a penalty corner as India went into the breather with a one-goal cushion.
That was all India could manage in the match as thereafter it was all Belgium.
Two minutes into the third quarter, Sreejesh made a brilliant save to deny Thomas Briels but minutes later Belgium equalised when Dockier scored from the top of the circle after dribbling past three Indian defenders.
If not for Sreejesh India could have lost the match by a bigger margin as he came out of his line to again deny Dockier.
Belgium then secured their second penalty corner late in the third quarter but once again Sreejesh came to India’s rescue to keep out Loick Luypaert’s flick.
But 30 seconds from final break Belgium’s relentless efforts bore fruit courtesy some sloppy defending by the Indians.
The Indian defence got ample time but failed to cut Cedric Charlier’s cross from left and Dockier was at the right place at the right time to deflect the ball in.
Trailing, India pressed hard in the final quarter but failed to create an open chance. The Belgian defence too was upto the task to thwart any danger to their goal.
Belgium earned their third penalty corner three minutes into the final quarter but Sreejesh once again made a great save.
Pressing hard for the equaliser, India left spaces in the their backline and Belgium pounced on the opportunity to extend their lead through Boon’s strike.
Desperate for goals, India withdrew Sreejesh in favour of an additional foward but all their efforts went in vain as Belgium defended in numbers to keep their lead intact.
India’s campaign, thus ended in the Rio Olympics as there are no classification matches this time.
Feature image source: AFP