HWL: India storm into semifinals

HWL: India storm into semifinals

Pilloried for two inept displays, a smarting India showed great character to pip Belgium in an absolute cracker of a game to march into the semifinals of the World League Final here on Wednesday.

Taken to the absolute distance by the plucky Belgians who bounced back first to make it 3-3 in regulation time and then pushed the shootout to a sudden death after trailing 0-2, India kept their composure when it mattered most to script a morale-boosting 3-2 victory at the Kalinga Stadium.    

India, knowing the flak they would receive if they misfired for a third game in a row, came out all guns blazing, just like they did against Australia. Despite losing nine of the last 11 games against the Red Lions, the Indians didn't look overawed by the opponent or the pressure that was on them to perform.

They attacked with plenty of purpose and made some dashing runs from the onset to catch the Olympic silver-medallists by surprise. They could have even stroked ahead in the second minute when Gurjant Singh whipped in a brilliant cross but ace striker S V Sunil inexplicably missed from point blank.

The Indians maintained that high tempo for the entirety of the opening quarter, hardly allowing the Belgians to dictate terms or play their usual one-touch passing game. Eventually both teams started having a crack at each other as action shifted from one end to another in a pulsating opening quarter. Both had their chances to nudge ahead but none could grab them.

India began the second quarter on a high tempo, hardly lifting their foot off the pedal. They kept pouring forward in numbers but were watchful at the back as well. Belgium too didn't back off and kept attacking at every given opportunity as the packed crowd soaked in the solid entertainment.

India eventually went ahead in the first minute of the third quarter when Athur van Doren's clearance ricocheted off Gurjant Singh's stick. Four minutes later India doubled the lead with Rupinder Pal Singh selling a brilliant dummy and Harmanpreet Singh rifling home.  

The Belgians, ranked third in the world, however refused to cave in and hit back strongly to silence the crowd. Ace drag-flicker Loick Luypaert was on target for the seventh and eighth times as Belgium were on equal terms by the 46th minute. It was then India's turn to land the next blow, Rupinder Pal Singh scoring within seconds of surrendering their lead.  

Known to fight until the death, Belgians then equalised for the third time in the 53rd minute, Amaury Keusters' shot deflecting home off Harmanpreet's stick. India then showed the rarely seen gutsy side of them in the drying moments. Belgians held possession and were all over India but the hosts held firm to push the match into a shoot-out.

India started the shoot-out positively, going ahead 2-0 but, just like how they did the entire game, Belgium roared back brilliantly to push into a sudden death. Harmanpreet converted the first attempt and Arthur van Doren decided to take charge. But this time, India held firm, Akash Chikte producing a brilliant save to send the crowd into raptures.  

Results: Quarterfinals: Australia: 4 (Jeremy Hayward 28th, Aaron Kleinschmidt 48th, Blake Govers 50th, 50th) bt Spain: 1 (Marc Garcia 20th); India: 3 (Gurjant Singh 31st, Harmanpreet Singh 35th, Rupinder Pal Singh 46th) bt Belgium: 3 (Loick Luypaert 39th, 46th, Amaury Keusters 53rd) via shootout 3-2.

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