Graham Reid’s India had to try something spectacular. But world champions Belgium, a class apart in all areas across the astro, had Alexander Hendrickx to thank once again as his hat-trick – to record his 14th goal of a headbandage, all muscle campaign – put the Red Lions into successive Olympic Games finals.
After a 5-2 win, the palmares of Euro, world and a first Olympic gold is still on for Belgium in the 11-a-side game, watched on Tuesday by International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach. Forget Belgium’s scoreline mirroring the short format which is beginning to etch itself into the sport. This was heavyweight hockey at its traditional best.
“It’s unbelievable,” said John-John Dohmen. “An Olympic medal is always the best memories we can have and now we will enjoy for 15 minutes maybe and then recover really well for the final because the gold is the objective. So it’s not finished.”
A three-goal deficit was harsh on India, who were in the game for three quarters of the game and led 2-1 after the first, in a game played at pace in searing Tokyo heat. In the end, though, Belgium had too much attacking threat in the last third – 14 penalty corner chances alone.
The first of those came in the second minute as Loick Luypaert put Shane McLeod’s side ahead. Yet India kept the pressure and Harmanpreet Singh levelled five minutes later. A minute later, a superb reverse hit from Mandeep Singh put India in front. Still they pressed high, as a Rupinder Singh PC was saved.
Three succesive Red Lion corners in the second quarter were kept out – even with Rupinder sent to half way for breaking too early – but Hendrickx was soon off the mark on Belgium’s sixth chance in the 19th minute.
India’s game plan seemed to be using width, with long hits into the D looking for the angle, the deflection to heap pressure on Belgium, who held firm in the heat.
The third quarter pace remained high. India had accrued five corner chances, but they couldn’t make a crucial chance count. It took until the 49th minute for Hendrickx to give Belgium a 3-2 lead. There was no way back and a penalty stroke seven minutes from time spelt the end. A fifth, from Dohmen in the last minute, added gloss for Belgium.
“Of course it’s heartbreaking for us,” said Rupinder, “reaching the semifinal after 41 years and we were here to win a gold medal. That was our aim, but we lost today. The great thing is we have a chance to finish third in the next game so we will focus on that.”