Inconsistency continued to haunt India as they conceded an early goal to lose 0-1 to Belgium and crash out of the title race of the Hockey World League Final in Raipur on Saturday.
India conceded a soft goal in the fifth minute of the second semi-final encounter when Cedric Charlier scored from a field strike for Belgium, which eventually separated both the teams at the Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel stadium.
The Indians were slow to get off the blocks and hardly troubled the Belgian defence in the first two quarters.
But the hosts came out with more purpose after the change of ends to create numerous scoring opportunities.
But their forward line floundered and failed to finish off the moves.
After failing to register a single shot at the opposition goal in the first 30 minutes, India managed 11 tries in the last two quarters but failed to convert those into goals.
The Indians also enjoyed 59 per cent possession in the match as against their rivals' 41, while the hosts made 24 circle penetrations compared to Belgium's 16. Interestingly, both the teams failed to secure a single penalty corner in the entire match.
But things did not look good for India even before the resumption of the match as goalkeeper P R Sreejesh hurt him self above the knee in the warm-up session and did not take part in the mandatory national anthem ceremony, drawing fears that he might not start in the first eleven. However, he recovered in time and took the field.
India coach Roelant Oltmans had said after their quarter-final duel that he could not guarantee a consistent performance from his wards in the next game and his words rang true as the Indians looked out of sorts in all departments of the game in the opening two quarters.
After the inspired show against Great Britain in the quarter-finals, the Indians today lacked purpose and seemed running out of ideas when the ball was in their possession, at least in the opening half.
Old habits die hard and India proved that saying right as mispassing and mistrapping were the order of the day.
It took Belgium just five minutes to surge ahead, courtesy some sloppy defending from the Indians. Carlier scored with a reverse hit from the top of the circle through the legs of Indian custodian Sreejesh after receiving as assist from Jerome Truyens.
The Indians thought that they won a penalty corner minutes later but it was disallowed after Belgium called for the referral.
In the 11th minute, Belgium could have doubled their lead had it not been for Sreejesh who came out of his line to deny an unmarked Thomas Briels.
In the 16th minute Akashdeep Singh failed to get his stick to S V Sunil's cross from the right. Barring this chance, the Indians failed to create any other opportunity in the second quarter.
Usually reliable and regarded as India's mainstay in the midfield, skipper Sardar Singh too was off colour and was lucky as his mispass in the 29th minute did not double Belgium's lead as Tanguy Cosyns' reverse hit went over the bar.
But after the cross over, it was a completely different India as they dominated the proceedings and had their first real chance at the goal in the 37th minute when SV Sunil set it up for Akashdeep Singh but the striker took plenty of time to get his shot at the goal which was saved by Belgium custodian Vincent Vanasch.
Two minutes later it was Dharamvir Singh's turn to miss another opportunity when he shot over the bar with only the Belgian goalkeeper to beat.
Belgium had far and few chances in the last two quarters and one of them was wasted by Florent van Aubel when his reverse hit went over the bar in the 49th minute.
In the final 10 minutes of the game, it was India all over Belgium as they put relentless pressure on the opposition goal with consistent raids.
In the 57th minute, Sunil wasted a golden opportunity to draw level when Dharamvir's pass from the right found him unmarked inside the circle. But Sunil failed to get a good shot at the goal and his feeble hit was saved by Vanasch.
Belgium’s defence was put under a lot of pressure for the remainder of the match but they somehow managed to keep their cool and deny India the equaliser.
The loss meant India also failed to avenge their 0-4 drubbing at the hands of Belgium earlier this year during the bronze medal match at the Hockey World League Semifinals.