Bhubaneswar: India produced an inspirational performance with a magnificent come-from-behind 4-2 victory over Belgium to set-up a mouth-watering semi-final clash against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy hockey tournament, here on Thursday.
It was a fantastic comeback after being down 0-2 within 18th minute courtesy goals from Felix Denayer (12th minute) and Sebastien Dockier (18th).
But the hosts, ranked ninth in the world immediately pulled one back in that very minute through Rupinder Pal Singh (18th).
SK Uthappa (27th) levelled the proceedings while Akashdeep Singh (41st) and Dharamvir Singh (49th) also scored in one of India’s most famous victory in recent time.
The arch-rivals will meet in the second semi-finals on Saturday. World champions Australia will meet Olympic champions Germany in another last-four match.
By virtue of this win, India has also avenged upon their 2-3 defeat against Belgium in this year’s World Cup at The Hague, Netherlands.
India were slow to get off the block as Belgium dominated the first quarter and earned two successive penalty corners inside the first 10 minutes but an alert India custodian PR Sreejesh foiled the second attempt with his out-stretched legs.
Danish Mujtaba missed a golden chance to score for India from the following counter-attack as he hit straight to the Belgian goalkeeper Vincent Vanash from a Dharamvir Singh pass.
Belgium hit India hard minutes later when Denayer’s drag-flick found the back of the net from their third penalty corner.
India did not have the best of starts in the second quarter as well three minutes into the quarter Sebastian scored with a lovely touch from Tanguy Cosyns pass.
The Indian defence should only be blamed for the second goal as they did not close down on Cosyns quickly and gave the Belgian forward ample time to find his man.
Hurt by the two goals but buoyed by the 7,000 strong home crowd at the Kalinga Stadium, the Indian team bounced back strongly and went on the offensive, which resulted in their first penalty corner and Rupinder was at his lethal best to pull one back for the hosts.
Minutes later, Ramandeep Singh’s shot from top of the circle was easily kicked away by Belgian custodian Vincent Vanash. Dharamvir then forced a fine save from Vanash.
Pumped up by the goal, India pressed hard thereafter and managed to draw level in the 27th minute when Uthappa was at the right place to neatly deflect home a V R Raghunath’s delivery from outside the striking circle.
Seconds from halftime Belgium wasted a bright chance when an unmarked Tom Boon shot wide with only Sreejesh to beat as both the teams went into the breather locked at 2-2.
After the crossover, Belgium pressed hard and came tentalisingly close to scoring but Florent van Aubel’s shot was off target.
India continued to attack in numbers in the third quarter and their efforts resulted in their third goal.
Akashdeep pushed home from close range after the ball landed in front of him post Sunil’s feeble attempt which was saved by Vanash. India thus took a 3-2 lead. The goal gave a boost to the home team to go for the kill and the Indians then mounted raids in numbers to unsettle the Belgian defence.
Lalit Upadhyay missed a great chance to register his name in the scoresheet as he shot wide with only the Belgian goalkeeper to beat.
Belgium then got another chance through their fourth penalty corner but the effort was blocked brilliantly by an onrushing Raghunath.
India dully capitalized on their opponents’ failure as Dharamvir scored after being fed by skipper Sardar Singh.
Stunned by the goals, Belgium started attacking and in the process won their fifth penalty corner, but they wasted the chance.
Thereafter, India defended in numbers to thwart any danger to their citadel and they succeeded in their effort to dig out the victory, definitely a morale booster for Indian hockey.