If the Red Lions wanted to go “all the way” at these Olympics, they had to leave India behind in the semifinals in Tokyo today. “This is certainly within our capabilities… but it won’t be easy!” national coach Shane McLeod said yesterday.
The former Indian hockey superpower has been making remarkable progress in recent years, after a lot of difficult years. But today, with Australian Graham Reed at the helm, the Indian team is back in full force. So it would be a game on the cutting edge, in the scorching heat of the Oi Hockey Stadium (38°C wind chill on the pitch in full sun)!
The Belgian staff had decided to keep Tom Boon in the stands today, given his somewhat disappointing physical stats since his return from injury a week ago. Briels was on the field again today.
It couldn’t have started better for the Belgians, because in the second minute they already got a first penalty corner, which Luypaert dragged untenable past goalkeeper Sreejesh this time: 0-1. The Belgians had started excellently, with a lot of concentration and ball circulation in the team.
They clearly wanted to control the game from the start. But India also got a first and a second PC shortly after each other. In the second, Harmanpreet showed that he too had a ‘deadly’ drag in the house and set the score at 1-1. Two minutes later it even became 2-1 for India, when Mandeep was able to land all by himself in the circle. The Lions took a blow, but immediately straightened their backs and went on the attack again.
The second quarter started again with a slight predominance for the Belgians and on the third PC the moment had come again for Alexander Hendrickx. The player Pinoké won 2-2 untenable in the lower left corner for his 12 goal of the tournament. And one minute later, Dockier deviated a nice pass from De Sloover just over the goal.
But the Indians also remained dangerous. Mandeep pushed deep on the left, his dangerous center rolled through the circle without being hit by a stick. In the 10th minute, an Indian attacker requested the video referral for an alleged push from Hendrickx. However, it was refused and India lost its right to video.
Both teams got another PC, but neither of them hit the mark. At the very end of the first half, Dockier captured the ball nicely at the head of the Indian circle, but his backhand shot went over. Standings at halftime of this very exciting match: 2-2.
The tension after the break was palpable. Both teams tried to build up very carefully, but this time with a slight advantage for India, which was faster on the ball, controlled more accurately and especially claimed more possession than the Belgians.
In the eighth minute of the third quarter, the referee whistled a PC for India, for a pushing error by Van Doren. The latter did not agree and requested the video, but unfortunately the Belgians now also lost their right to video, because the pushing error was confirmed.
However, the PC yielded nothing. In the closing minutes of the third quarter, the Lions again came through better and claimed more balls. However, it did not translate on the scoreboard.
The last 15 minutes should therefore be the deciding factor in this semi-final. After three minutes, India fell with ten, due to a green card from their captain Manpreet. The Lions took advantage of this numerical superiority to conquer a new PC and two more to come.
Not the first, not the second drag of Hendrickx hit the target, but the third did hit. Alexander Hendrickx put the Red Lions at 2-3. With eight minutes left on the clock, three more PC’s followed for the Belgians, but in the last one, Hendrickx’s ball was stopped by an Indian’s foot just before the line: penalty shot! Alexander Hendrickx, who else, shot the 2-4 into goal with a cool head and put in another hat-trick.
With 2:58 left on the clock, the Indian coach took their keeper off. The Belgians locked everything up and came out much better themselves, with ball recovery galore. With six seconds left to play, John-John Dohmen topped it off, beautifully played by a clinical high ball from Luypaert. Books advance for India and the Red Lions to the final. Final score: 2-5.
This Olympic final is scheduled for Thursday at 12 noon Belgian time. Get all your Belgian flags, scarves, jerseys … out of the closet again and experience this historic final at your hockey club!