Belgium claim first gold hockey after shootout win over Australia

Published August 6, 2021
Players of Belgium celebrate on the podium after receiving their gold medals. — Reuters
Players of Belgium celebrate on the podium after receiving their gold medals. — Reuters
INDIAN goalkeeper Sreejesh Parattu Raveendran and a team-mate celebrate after winning the bronze medal match against Germany at the Oi Hockey Stadium on Thursday.
—AFP
INDIAN goalkeeper Sreejesh Parattu Raveendran and a team-mate celebrate after winning the bronze medal match against Germany at the Oi Hockey Stadium on Thursday. —AFP

TOKYO: Belgium won their first Olympic men’s hockey title, beating Australia 3-2 in a penalty shootout after the final finished in a 1-1 draw on Thursday.

The sides were locked in a close fight through much of the match, with Belgium forward Florent van Aubel giving the Red Lions the lead two minutes into the second half.

Australia equalised thanks to a goal by Tom Wickham, sending the match to the shootout, in which Belgian goalie Vincent Vanasch saved three attempts from the Kookaburras, including a retake from Jake Whetton following a video referral.

But Vanasch saved Whetton’s second try, winning Belgium the title.

“We were really focused and then I did the job at the end,” Vanasch told reporters. “I’m really happy. I think all of the Belgian people are proud today of the Belgium national team.”

Belgium had to wait an extra year to improve on their second-place performance in 2016.

“Standing on the biggest stage on the biggest podium for a small hockey country as Belgium is a crown on all the hard work,” forward Thomas Briels said. “And a lot of respect to all the teammates — we work so hard — and people behind the scenes of hockey in Belgium.”

Australia, who won the silver medal, claimed their last Olympic title in 2004.

“It’s a tough way to lose the gold medal,” Australia’s goalie Andrew Charter said. “We didn’t want to go to shootouts. We had the lion’s share [of the game] at the end. If you let it go to shootouts it can be a bit of a coin toss sometimes.”

INDIA END 41-YEAR DROUGHT

India took the bronze earlier on Thursday after a thrilling 5-4 victory over Germany, giving the country its first Olympic medal in the sport since the 1980 Moscow Games.

India forward Simranjeet Singh scored twice, including the winner.

“It’s a dream come true,” Simranjeet said. “We’ve made 1.3 billion Indians proud by finishing on the podium.”

The high-scoring match was not easy for eight-time Olympic champions India. Germany took an early lead through a second-minute goal by Timur Oruz, and posed a threat to India in the first quarter.

After Simranjeet equalised with a backhand shot, Germany kept their cool, scoring twice to take a 3-1 lead in the second quarter.

But India pulled level late in that quarter thanks to goals by Hardik Singh and Harmanpreet Singh, making it 3-3 at halftime.

India took a 5-3 lead after Rupinder Pal Singh notched in a penalty stroke and Simranjeet scored the winner not long into the second half.

Germany got one goal back and tried to force the equaliser, even taking out their goalkeeper to bring in an extra outfield player but they could not beat India goalie Sreejesh Parattu Raveendran who made nine saves in the match.

‘DANCING’ WITH JOY

The celebrations started simultaneously in Tokyo and across India for the bronze medal that’s taken 41 years to forge.

For the most successful nation in Olympic field hockey competition, the win ended decades of agonising over repeat failures since they won the last of their eight Olympic titles in Moscow.

India captain Manpreet Singh dedicated the medal to the country’s healthcare workers in the midst of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

“As the whole team and as coaches, we would like to dedicate this medal to our doctors and [health workers] who have been sacrificed for us and saved so many people’s lives there in India and everywhere in this world, he said. So we would like to dedicate this medal to those warriors.”

Families of the Indian team danced in the streets in Punjab state, waving hockey sticks in the air after the win. Other fans waved the Indian flag as they rushed out of their houses. Ten of the 18-man squad come from Punjab.

“The whole nation is dancing,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi told captain Manpreet and coach Graham Reid in a celebratory call to the team. He hailed the win as “historic”.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2021

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