The Indian team is ecstatic after beating Belgium 3-2 in the penalty shootout on Wednesday. PTI
India got a lifeline in the early minutes, ceded a two-goal lead, then failed to hold on at 3-2, again surrendered a two-goal advantage in the shootout before, finally, Akash Chikte denied Arthur van Doren in sudden death to release the unbearable tension built up at the Kalinga Stadium and send the capacity crowd into a long collective roar. Chikte, extraordinarily cool in such a tense situation, saved three shots in the shootout. But the last two Indian attempts went wide and hit the crossbar to let the Olympics silver medallists back in the match. At that time, it seemed India’s luck was going to run out — when a tumbling Rupinder Pal Singh managed to nudge the ball in during the shootout, it seemed it was going to be India’s day. Harmanpreet Singh, who had missed India’s first attempt in the shootout, stepped up to take the first in the sudden death as well. This time, Harmanpreet, who actually asked the umpire to change the ball, managed to rock the backboard. For Belgium, van Doren — the FIH Young Player of year — took his place at the 25-yard line, stooping over the yellow ball. But whatever was going on in his head would have been drowned by the cheers Harmanpreet’s goal raised. Van Doren was one of only two Belgians to score in the regular shootout, having beaten Chikte with ease. But this time, the young goalkeeper shadowed the Belgian till the last moment and watched the ball ricochet off his pads towards safety. He stood up, roared with arrogance, before getting buried under a heap of Indian players. Van Doren lay there with his face in his hands, while his teammates consoled each other. Players like John-John Dohmen could not have escaped from a sense of déjà vu. He was part of the team that had lost to India at the same ground and at the same stage of the 2014 Champions Trophy.
But this win ranks much higher for India as Belgium are currently world No. 3 and, unlike back in 2014, were the tournament favourites after having won all their pool matches. For India, it had been a terrible tournament so far. So what changed since their abject show against Germany? “We did the same thing,” India coach Sjoerd Marijne said when asked what he did differently to inspire such an improved performance. “Today, the players were focused throughout the match. In the previous matches, you saw that only in patches,” he added. After early pressure, Belgium scored the first goal. Despite having 11 men in their own third, India still allowed a free man in the circle, whose mishit reverse-stick shot went past the goalkeeper. But a video referral by the umpire showed that the initial shot came off the back stick. After the lifeline, India improved hugely. After absorbing pressure, India started the second half on the attack. Akashdeep Singh made two interceptions, the second of which led to the opener by Gurjant Singh. Results
- India 3-2 Belgium (Penalty shootout)
- Australia 4-1 Spain