India's hopes of qualifying for an Olympic final was dashed by the formidable Belgium squad who came from behind to beat the Manpreet Singh-led Indian team 5-2 in the semi-final of Men's Hockey at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

It was a hat-trick by Alexander Hendrickx (19', 49', 53'), and goals by Loick Luyaert (2') and John-John Dohmen (60') that helped Belgium book a place in the final. For India,  Harmanpreet Singh (7') and Mandeep Singh (9') scored the goals.

India's hunt for a medal, however, will continue when they play the Bronze medal play-off match on Thursday, 5 August 2021, against the losing team from the second semi-final between Australia and Germany.

Both teams got off to a blistering start in the first quarter. While there was early pressure from Indian attackers, it was the world champions who drew first blood in only the 2nd minute. Loick Luypaert stepped up to take the flick from the penalty corner and scored a stunning goal.

India, however, were quick to respond to the early 0-1 setback when they were awarded back-to-back penalty corners in the 7th minute. It was Harmanpreet Singh who came up with a perfect dragflick, scoring his 5th goal of the tournament. The Men in Blue extended their lead to 2-1 in the 9th minute when Mandeep Singh converted from an Amit Rohidas pass. 

The first quarter continued to be an action-packed affair, but India held on to the ball possession. The team in blue was extremely threatening but the Belgian goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch was on hand to keep his team in the game. 

The rest of the match was all about Belgium. They equalised in the 19th minute when their leading goal scorer, Alexander Hendrickx took his first penalty corner and did brilliantly to hood-wink India's experienced goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, sending a powerful flick to the right bottom of the post.

Though India continued to dominate the ball possession, the Belgians created more chances. They also did exceptionally well to keep the Indian midfield from connecting forward and allow potential forays into the circle. Though the Indian forward line worked a penalty corner in the 29th minute, Harmanpreet's flick was off target this time. 

The third quarter was goalless as both teams couldn't convert from the chances they created. India's opportunity to take a lead in the 39th minute through a penalty corner was defended well by the Belgians. These 15 minutes seemed slightly dull compared to the first two quarters that saw tremendous tempo created by both teams. 

A 2-2 stalemate at the end of the third hooter meant the final quarter had all the action in store. An early chance created by India went in vain when forward Lalit Upadhyay tried to win a penalty corner but couldn't connect. Things went against India in the 49th minute when Skipper Manpreet Singh was given a green card. This was when the Belgians won three consecutive penalty corners and  Hendrickx scored off the third attempt to put Belgium ahead once again by 3-2. 

Under pressure, India made infringements in the circle that gave away three more penalty corners in the following minutes. Though Sreejesh and Amit Rohidas were at the heart of India's penalty corner defence, the third attempt for Belgium turned into a penalty stroke. Hendrickx stepped up to convert it and completed his hat-trick as he fetched Belgium a formidable 4-2 lead in the 53rd minute. Though India made valiant attempts to push for a goal, a well-structured Belgium defence was too hard to beat for India's forward line. 

In the final minutes, India chose to remove PR Sreejesh and put an extra attacker on the pitch, but the risk did not materialize. While Harmanpreet's tomahawk was saved well by Vanasch with one minute left, Belgium scored their fifth goal on a counter. It was John-John Dohmen who struck the goal for Belgium, ending India's hopes of playing in an Olympic final.

India will play their bronze medal match on Friday, August 5.

Featured photo: Hockey India