An Alexander Hendrickx hat trick, all from set-pieces, took Belgium past India 5-2 into the gold medal match of the men's hockey event at the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday. Belgium, silver medallists at the 2016 Rio Olympics, had to rally from trailing 2-1 in the first quarter, with India paying for conceding as many as 14 penalty corners (PCs).
The result means India will be bidding for their first Olympic medal in 41 years -- a bronze -- when they take on the losing team from the second semi-final between Australia and Germany, scheduled for Tuesday evening.
Belgium were given the perfect start, earning their first PC a little over a minute after pushback, and defender Loick Luypaert was able to squeeze the ball between the first rusher and goalkeeper PR Sreejesh's legs to score.
However, India were quick to respond, scoring off their first PC as well inside the next five minutes. Harmanpreet Singh would score his fifth goal of the tournament, dragging the ball hard and low past goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch. Just two minutes later, Mandeep Singh latched on to a hard square pass from Amit Rohidas on the right, created the tiniest workable room for himself, and then hit a rasping, low reverse hit past Vanasch to give India the lead.
India looked the better side in the first quarter, but allowed a lot of pressure on themselves as half-time loomed. Belgium were able to earn six more PCs in the second quarter, and tournament top-scorer Hendrickx played the ball low to the right of Sreejesh, a deceitful late flick of the wrists preventing the Indian goalkeeper from finding the perfect balance, to make it 2-2.
The third quarter was a quieter affair, with both teams struggling to cope with the heat and humidity. India did win a couple of PCs, though, but Vanasch prevented Rupinder Pal Singh from scoring, while Harmanpreet went just wide with one effort.
The fourth quarter began perfectly again for Belgium, with Indian captain Manpreet Singh throwing in a clumsy tackle around the centre line inside a minute and earning a two-minute suspension through a green card. Belgium took advantage to press up and earn the first PC of the second half for themselves. Hendrickx took his goal tally to 13 with a late adjustment to send the ball searing to the left of Sreejesh, between the player at the post and the second rusher, for 3-2.
Belgium found a glut of PCs around the midway point of the quarter, and one of them struck an Indian defender and was deemed to be headed towards goal. Hendrickx would convert the resultant penalty stroke to bring up a hat trick and push Belgium two goals ahead, a lead that they defended comfortably till the end. Towards the end, John-John Dohmen added a facile goal with seconds left, capitalising on the absence of Sreejesh, who had been pulled off to accommodate an extra outfield player
In the women's tournament, India will play their semifinal against Argentina on Wednesday afternoon.