Akash Chikte pulled off a brilliant show in the Indian post during a thrilling penalty shootout against Rio Olympics runners-up Belgium to take the hosts into the semifinals of the Hockey World League (HWL) Finals at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Wednesday.
The see-saw quarterfinal battle stood 3-3 at the end of regulation time and then settled in favour of the hosts at 3-2 after sudden death shootout, thanks to PR Sreejesh’s understudy Chikte, who made four brilliant saves to send the 9000-strong crowd and his team-mates into a frenzy.
Gurjant Singh (31st minute), Harmanpreet Singh (35th) and Rupinder Pal Singh (46th) scored for India before the full-time hooter blew.
The Red Lions were led by their goal machine Loick Luypaert, who hit a brace in the 39th and 46th minute, while Amaury Keusters (53rd) scored the equaliser for the visitors.
In the penalty shootout, Rupinder and Lalit Upadhyay kept India in the game, but Harmanpreet, Akashdeep Singh and Sumit failed to beat the Belgium goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch.
Harmanpreet was entrusted with the responsibility to go first in sudden-death tie-breaker and he didn’t disappoint to bring cheer back among the crowd. Chikte then pulled off his fourth save in one-on-one situation against Arthur van Doren to signal India’s victory.
The hosts will take on the winners of the quarterfinal between Argentina and England to be played on Wednesday.
“We played for nothing but a win as that is the only thing that takes you forward from here on,” said a relieved India captain, Manpreet Singh, after the match. “C0rowd support played its role and it’s always inspiring to perform in front of packed stadiums and win.”
It was a different India on the pitch when it mattered the most. Sjoerd Marijne’s boys didn’t have much to write home about with just a point from a draw and two defeats in the pool stage.
India’s show, perhaps, reflected in the way veteran striker SV Sunil upped his game in the first half, where he got to the end of two brilliant balls but was unfortunate to see his deflections go wide.
Rupinder, who first assisted Harmanpreet with a dummy to score off a penalty corner, and then hit his second goal of the tournament off another, also played the role of a senior that was expected from him before the start of the tournament.
India converted two of their four PCs; but besides scoring, it was heartening to see them bring in variation to the routine.
India’s counter-attacking tactics provide futile against England and Germany, but the team stuck to it with improved formation, especially in the right flank that moved the best so far in three outings.
Belgium remained close on the heels of the Indians backed by the local crowd in numbers. It was PC expert Luypaert that they banked upon once again as the red shirts looked for an Indian foot most times they entered the striking circle.
The game was on a knife’s edge in the last seven minutes and ended in deep breaths in both dug-outs, where Marijne and Belgium coach Shane McLeod had their five players already tick-marked for the shootout.