RAIPUR: Not for nothing do they say ‘old habits die hard’. India were everything they did not in the quarter finals, and contrived to lose 1-0 to Belgium in their last four encounter here at the World Hockey League Final on Saturday. Running without purpose, dribbling down cul-de-sacs and failing to trap a ball. They produced all of the above on a periodical basis, before mounting a belated challenge in the third quarter.
There was a sustained phase of pressure when the hosts, whose winless streak in semifinals of big-ticket FIH events (Olympics, Champions Trophy, World Cup and HWL) first began at the 1982 Champions Trophy, when the energetic SV Sunil found Akashdeep Singh in the box. But his shot was straight at keeper Jeremy Gucassoff. It was the hosts’ first shot on target.
This was the only phase of the match when India truly poured forward, after Cedric Charlier had given Belgium the lead in the fifth minute.
The defenders were yet to get up to speed and they allowed Charlier through for a reverse hit after a pass from Jerome Truyens. Custodian PR Sreejesh, who had went down clutching his leg after sustaining some sort of an injury during warm-up, was slow to react but Roelant Oltmans, the India coach, refused to put any blame on him. “No, we discussed it with him. He said he was ‘100 %’ and it was decided he would play. You really can’t say the injury had anything to do with the goal.”
The first two quarters were a write-off from an Indian perspective, something that Oltmans agreed. “We maybe did not take the initiave in the first two quarters, but I thought in the second half we played well,” he said.
Belgium were happy to sit back and maintain defensive structure while India, who were haring forward at a rate of knots in the second half, thought they had a penalty corner in the last seconds. Gucassoff tried to clear a high ball in the box after the initial save from Sunil. But he failed to connect and the hosts appealed for a penalty corner for dangerous play. The video umpire ruled in favour of the visitors, something that invited Oltmans’ displeasure. “When you see an attacker do it, he always gets penalised. So from my point of view, I think the defender should also be penalised,” he opined.
Sunday fixtures: Third-fourth playoff (6.30 pm): India vs Netherlands; Final (8.45 pm): Belgium vs Australia (Both matches on Star Sports 1).