A lacklustre India squandered a one-goal advantage and went down 1-3 to Belgium in the quarter-finals of the men's hockey competition at the Rio Olympics on Sunday.
The eight-time Olympic gold medallists took the lead through a fine field goal from Akashdeep Singh in the 15th minute before Belgium scored three field goals through Sebastien Dockier (34th, 45th minute) and Tom Boon (50th) to dash India's hopes of their first medal after their last gold in 1980 at Moscow.
It was a historic moment for Belgium as they progressed to the semi-finals of the Olympics after a gap of 96 years.
Having topped Pool A, Belgium were the favourites in Sunday’s encounter and they played like champions, dominating the proceedings for most part of the game barring a few minutes in the second quarter after India took the lead late in the first quarter.
The Indians looked completely out of sorts as they played catch-up hockey.
The forwardline cut a sorry figure as they hardly created any chances which could be gauged from the fact that India failed to earn a single penalty-corner in the entire 60 minutes’ duration.
The defence too found it tough to keep check of the rampaging Belgium forwardline, which mounted relentless attacks on the Indian goal.
With the Belgium forwards on the attack, India adopted a defence approach and relied more on counter attacks.
Belgium had the first shot at goal in the 13th minute when a try by Dockier, their best player of the day, was saved by goalkeeper P R Sreejesh.
But India broke the deadlock in the final minute of the first quarter against the run of play through Akashdeep, who got a deft deflection to a Manpreet Singh pass inside the circle, to go into the break on a high.
Leading 1-0, India made a composed start in the second quarter and controlled the game for a brief period during which they created two good scoring chances.
In the 22nd minute, Ramandeep's perfect lob found SV Sunil on the left flank but his cross was just out of the reach of Nikkin Thimmaiah.
Sunil was again in the thick of action when his perfect cross found an unmarked Akashdeep inside the circle but his reverse hit went just wide.
A minute-and-a-half from the end of second quarter, Belgium had two chances to draw level -- first their captain John-John Dohmen was denied by Sreejesh and then 15 seconds from half-time they wasted a penalty-corner as India went into the breather with a one-goal cushion.
But that was all India could manage in the match as thereafter it was all Belgium.
Two minutes into the third quarter, Sreejesh made a brilliant save to deny Thomas Briels but minutes later Belgium equalised when Dockier scored from the top of the circle after dribbling past three Indian defenders.
If not for Sreejesh India could have lost the match by a bigger margin as he came out of his line to again deny Dockier.
Belgium then forced their second penalty-corner late in the third quarter but again Sreejesh came to India's rescue, keeping Loick Luypaert's flick.
But 30 seconds from the final break Belgium's relentless efforts bore fruit courtesy some sloppy defending by the Indians.
The Indian defence got ample time but failed to cut Cedric Charlier's cross from left and Dockier was at the right place at the right time to deflect the ball in.
Trailing, India pressed hard in the final quarter but failed to create an open chance. The Belgian defence too was up to the task to thwart any danger to their goal.
Belgium earned their third penalty-corner three minutes into the final quarter but Sreejesh again made a great save.
Pressing hard for the equaliser, India left spaces in the their backline and Belgium pounced on the opportunity to extend their lead through Boon's strike.
Desperate for goals, India withdrew Sreejesh in favour of an additional forward but all their efforts went in vain as Belgium defended in numbers.
India's campaign at the Olympics thus ended as there are no classification matches this time.
Earlier in the day, Argentina defeated Spain 2-1 to book a place in the semi-finals.