New Delhi: Two goals in the last four minutes helped Belgium snatch a 2-1 victory over India in the 5-6 position playoff tie of the Hockey World League Final at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium here Saturday.
The World No.5 team finished the tournament fifth while hosts India had to be content with sixth after playing a high intensity match.
Both India and Belgium shared almost equal possession throughout the match and penetrated the striking circle at regular intervals.
Indian skipper Sardar Singh was in his elements as he duly performed his role of a playmaker passing the ball to the forwards. The hosts had an excellent opportunity to go up on the board when a Yousuf Affan reverse flick in an empty Belgian striking circle just went over the bar in the 13th minute.
The World No.5 team reverted in the 17th and 18th minutes when Sebastien Docklier and Tom Boon almost scored on both occasions. But Indian goalkeeper and man of the match P.R. Sreejesh stood like a wall and disallowed Belgium from taking the lead.
India created several chances but forwards S.V. Sunil and Yousuf Affan were unsuccessful in converting their opportunities. The Indian defence, however, lapsed several times and the hosts were lucky to go into the break without a goal down.
In the second half both teams took safety-first approach, trying to keep possession. But after a few minutes, Belgium came out all guns blazing to earn three penalty corners in a span of four minutes, the first coming in the 48th minute. But Sreejesh was supreme and stopped everything that came his way.
The hosts counter-attacked after the third corner and earned their first penalty corner only to be missed by drag-flicker Rupinder Singh.
But the eight time Olympic champions finally broke the deadlock when Nikkin Thimmaiah scored on his 24th birthday.
Four minutes to go for the hooter and India looked like bagging the fifth place but Belgium came back to first equalise in the 67th minute through Florent van Aubel and then Boon’s penalty corner strike a minute later gave them the decisive lead.
Earlier Saturday, Germany walked away with seventh place after defeating Argentina 2-1 in the 7-8 playoff match. Both teams fought hard to avoid finishing last.
Playing his 100th match for Argentina, Facundo Callioni opened the scoring in the 16th minute when his skillful backhand stroke defeated German goalkeeper Tim Jessulat. However, the Olympic champions provided a quick response when Benjamin Wess struck back from open play and halftime was reached at 1-1.
The second half saw Argentina battling hard for another goal but couldn’t breakthrough the German defence and Tobias Matania helped Germany take the lead against the run of play in the 60th minute. Argentina continued to play at a high tempo but couldn’t convert their chances.