Raipur, Dec 5 (IANS) Belgium pipped a hard-working India 1-0 in the second semifinal to set up a summit clash against world champions Australia in the the Hockey World League (HWL) Final at the Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel International Stadium here on Saturday.
Cedric Charlier’s fifth minute strike was enough for Belgium to down India and move into the final. Meanwhile India will have the chance for consolation when they face the Netherlands in the bronze medal match on Sunday.
It was a match that saw India challenging a strong Belgian defence, that held firm and the hosts threw everything at the Europeans but the equaliser was not be seen.
India pressed high from the beginning but the Belgian defence held firm. Mohammad Amir was prevented from meeting a pass from Akashdeep Singh. Ramandeep Singh and S.V. Sunil were India’s trump card from the right and they were doing well.
But Belgium scored from their first real attempt at the post in the fifth minute. Jerome Truynes’s cross set up an unmarked Charlier at the top of the circle and he employed a fiery backhand strike that beat Indian goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh, who was slow in his reaction.
It forced India to play a bit controlled game as Roelant Oltmans directed Sardar Singh to play deep and control the possession.
Belgium, coached by New Zealander Shane McLeod upped the ante and almost got their second goal after Thomas Briels received an aerial ball and came one-on-one with Sreejesh, who had to rush ahead to deny the forward the chance in the closing part of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, India continued their ploy of controlled aggression but failed to get a clear-cut chance.
Sunil did well to enter the circle before crossing it for Akashdeep, who failed to reach to the ball in the 18th minute and later Talwinder Singh looked in a hurry while executing a build-up play from the open spaces.
Belgium, too got their chance when Tanguy Cosyns intercepted a Sardar pass from the centre of the pitch and made a solo run into the Indian circle but his reverse-hand hit sailed over the Indian post, bringing a sigh of relief for the packed crowd.
After the change of ends, the battle reached its simmering peak with India looking desperate for the equaliser.
They intercepted well, especially Sunil, who was in the thick of things. The Karnataka forward, with his speedy run, involved in a one-two with Akashdeep, who was denied by goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch.
Belgium defenders man-of-the-match Arthur van Doren, Loick Lupayert and Gauthier Boccard had a very good game, halting India’s every raid. They didn’t allow a penalty corner that was desperately sought by the Indians.
Belgium, too relentlessly went on the attack, peppering Indian defence and keeping Sreejesh on the guard.
Meanwhile Manpreet’s aerial pass was controlled admirably by Akashdeep inside the Belgian cicle. But his attempt at the goal was wayward.
Similarly, in the fourth quarter, India threw everything at the Belgian defence. Sunil also had another chance in front of the goal post but he drove straight at the goalkeeper and the teams were involved in goal melee. India’s demand for a penalty corner on the version that Lupayert was blocking them from attempting shots was denied as the game came to a conclusion with a 1-0 victory for the European side.