Bhubaneswar, Dec 6 : Goalkeeper Akash Chikte put up a superlative show as India edged past Olympic silver medallists Belgium 3-2 via penalty shootout to enter the semi-finals of the FIH Hockey World League (HWL) Final here on Wednesday.
After a six-goal regulation play thriller, Chikte blocked four Belgian attackers during the shootout, while Lalit Upadhyay, Rupinder Pal Singh and Harmanpreet Singh were on the mark for India.
Gurjant Singh (31st minute), Harmanpreet (34th) and Rupinder (46th) scored in the regulation time for India at the packed Kalinga Stadium.
Loick Luypaert (38th and 46th) converted two penalty corners to lead the Belgian fightback before Cedric Charlier (52nd) scored the equaliser after Rupinder’s goal.
Sjoerd Marijne-coached India, who ended the pool phase with two defeats and a draw, brought out their best game in the quarter-final.
The first 30 minutes was goalless and the teams dished out pulsating hockey in the final two quarters.
India could have fallen behind in the 10th minute had they not take a review on Thomas Briels’ cross — which later was seen to have come from the back-stick — that set-up an unmarked John-john Dohmen to tap it in.
India slowly adjusted to the pace dictated by the Belgians. Quick change of passes helped them deal with Belgium’s superiority on slick ball control and one-on-one advantage.
They took 18 minutes to show their intent when a Gurjant Singh cross from right flank to the far post was nicely positioned for a tap in for a running S.V. Sunil but the ball bounced of the latter’s stick and went away.
India stepped up after the 10-minute break and struck in the first minute. Gurjant, hovering in front of the Berlian goal-post, drove a ball home after a defensive error in dealing with a pass from S.K. Uthappa.
Three minutes later, Harmanpreet drag-flicked past Belgin goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch to make it 2-0.
But Belgium reacted quickly, Luypaert converting a penalty corner in the 38th minute to take his tournament’s goal tally to seven.
With Belgium sending many of their men forward, India got many opportunities but they failed to capitalise on them.
Instead, Belgium got what they desired. Luypaert was right on the money again in the 46th minute as his drag-flick went through the legs of Indian goalkeeper Suraj Karkera. The goal silenced the noisy crowd in the Odisha capital.
Rupinder struck few seconds later to revive India’s lead, firing to the right corner of the goal-post.
India’s lead stood only for more than five minutes as Charlier pounced on a rebound inside the box to roll the ball in, bringing Belgium level on 3-3.
Belium then got two penalty corners in the final five minutes to dash India’s hopes. But Karkera and his defensive set-up did their job to take the game to the shootout where Chikte emerged a hero.
He saved attempts from Gauthier Boccard, Emmanuel stockbroex, Victor Wegnez and Arthur van Doren. The latter had scored in the Belgium’s fourth attempt before failing in their sixth which proved to be the sudden death for the European outfit. Florent van Aubel had made it 2-2 during the shootout.
For India, Harmanpreet, Sumit and Akashdeep had failed in their strikes. But Harmanpreet redeemed himself by scoring the first one after the first-five regulation attempts.
“It’s a positive start. We played quite well against Belgium, one of the world’s best team. We did better than the previous games,” said Indian coach Marijne.
Earlier in the day, Australia beat Spain 4-1 to enter the last four stage.