By Ashish Maggo
After an inspiring come-from-behind victory against Malaysia, India will now face hosts Belgium in the last four stage of the Hockey World League semifinals.
The match will pose a stern test to India’s defence as well as goalkeeper PR Sreejesh as the Belgians carry one of the best attacks in hockey in recent times. Belgium, who edged France 5-4 in their quarterfinal match, are currently placed at No.4 in the world, which is their highest-ever ranking.
However, India will take confidence from the fact that they have beaten Belgium in their last two Champions Trophy matches in Melbourne and Bhubaneswar. On the other hand, Belgium have beaten India both in the 2012 Olympic Games and the 2014 World Cup.
“Playing Belgium suits our game. Belgium play a structured game and we’re ready for this contest,” said India coach Paul van Ass, urging his team to go into the match with belief.
In the quarterfinal against Malaysia, India were able to sneak through only on the basis of two late penalty corner goals from youngster Jasjit Singh and will have to put up a better performance against hosts Belgium.
On the other hand, Belgium were carried forward by captain John-John Dohmen and star player Tom Boon as they resisted a late French challenge to win the highest-scoring contest in the quarterfinals.
India had already qualified for the finals of the Hockey World League by virtue of being hosts. However, chief coach van Ass said that it was good to see India qualifying on the basis of their performance in the semifinals.
In the other semifinal, world champions Australia will take on Great Britain, who beat Pakistan 2-1, thereby knocking them out from a chance to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. India have already qualified for Rio following their win against Pakistan in the Asian Games gold medal match in Incheon last year.
Van Ass also praised Jasjit for his lightning-quick drag-flicks in the quarterfinal against Malaysia and hailed him as a player for the future.
“We now have some alternative options. I like drag flicks, but we have to be fairly more creative,” van Ass told PTI.