TOKYO — From hotly contested decisions to barely a stick raised in anger towards the end, second-ranked Belgium and Team GB’s 2-2 draw had it all as Danny Kerry’s side progressed to the Tokyo Olympics men’s quarter-finals.
The indoor ending to this game also saved a nervy finale. With Belgium in possession for the final few minutes, happy in the knowledge Netherlands held fourth spot in Pool B and would therefore face red-hot Australia in the last eight, GB stood their ground and saw out a crucial draw.
It was welcome respite after the muggy, battling 60 minutes endured by both sides in the stifling Tokyo evening.
The upshot? Great Britain will next face a resurgent India, while Belgium, whose top spot was guaranteed, will take on Spain and Germany will play defending champions Argentina.
Sam Ward said: “We beat them and lost to them in the Euros and then got a draw with them today, it’s showing we’re putting our game out there, hopefully we can go out there against India and put out one hell of a performance.
“Playing in some medal matches would be a dream come true.”
A possible win was taken away from GB when, on the stroke of half time with the 1988 champions leading 1-0, they were denied a clear second goal after the ball crossed well over the line.
Spanish umpire Francisco Vazquez waved away protests after Jack Waller’s shot was cleared – GB had lost their referral, while the Spaniard didn’t check with the third umpire – then referring Belgium’s equaliser through Tom Boon from a penalty corner.
Earlier Rupert Shipperley had finished off an incredible move on the left between Liam Ansell and Zach Wallace in the second quarter to put the favourites behind.
Chris Griffiths took out the deadly Alexander Hendrickx – who has scored two hat-tricks and one double – with an unfortunate blow to the face and nose when attempting a cross-shot, the Belgian’s blood mopped up from the pitch immediately afterwards in a stark reminder of how dangerous hockey can be.
Following Boon’s leveller Ansell wasted little time after Ward’s superb control from a long ball fed his fellow forward for his fourth goal in Tokyo. Ansell once again showed why he is one of the world’s best when given a run at international level, with a fine lift across goal.
However Sebastien Dockier’s backhand hit was met by Thomas Briels to draw the Belgians level again. The long-time captain was originally dropped from the 16 but has played his part over the last week after IOC rules were laxed for the reserves.
On the flip side, GB men have yet to use their two reserves while a majority of nations have done so given the searing temperatures in Tokyo.