Belgium claim first gold after shootout win over Australia
August 05 2021 10:56 PM
Belgium players celebrate after winning the penalty shoot-out against Australia in the Tokyo Olympic
Belgium players celebrate after winning the penalty shoot-out against Australia in the Tokyo Olympics hockey final at the Oi Hockey Stadium in Tokyo yesterday. (Reuters)

Reuters/ 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 yesterday. 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.”
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 took the bronze earlier yesterday 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.
The medal in Tokyo possesses enormous significance for India, a former hockey powerhouse which has a proud record of eight Olympic gold medals in the sport.
Goalkeeper Sreejesh hopes the result would inspire a new generation to take up hockey, reviving former glories in a nation where cricket dominates the sporting landscape. “It’s a rebirth. That’s it. It’s been 41 years,” he said. “In 1980 we won the last medal and after that, nothing. This gives a boost and gives energy to the youngsters to pick up hockey and play this game. This is a beautiful game.”
Sreejesh said before the Tokyo Games that India would be playing in memory of former hockey-playing Olympians who lost their lives in the coronavirus pandemic. Two members of India’s 1980 gold medal-winning team, Ravindra Pal Singh and Maharaj Krishan Kaushik, died from Covid-19 on the same day in May.
Keshav Datt, who was part of winning teams in 1948 and 1952, died in July, although his death was due to age-related illness. India’s women’s hockey team has also excelled and will play Great Britain for bronze today after eliminating gold medal favourites Australia in the quarters.

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