London: Belgium struck thrice to hand India their fifth consecutive defeat in the preliminary league of the Olympic men's hockey competition here Tuesday.
Goals by veteran Jerome Dekeyser (15th), Gautier Boccard (47th) and Tom Boon (67th) set up Belgium's second win which lifted them to third position in the group with seven points while a winless India finished sixth without a point and will play for 9-12 positions, their worst-ever finish in the Olympics.
India's league campaign thus ended on a sad note as the team failed to show any improvement even against a team that was considered the weakest of the six in the group, but Belgium showed that under Aussie legend Colin Batch's coaching, they are a side making good progress.
For the fifth time in a row, India failed to display any kind of plan or panache to give hopes of a victory as they came up against a Belgian outfit that was better organised in the defence and very fast on the break.
India did enjoy a few moments of supremacy, but yet again the forwards were abysmal at the finish while Belgian goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch was simply unbeatable on the day, bringing off several great saves.
The major difference between the two teams were that Indians, as in the past, depended too much on individual skills that were plentiful but totally ineffective against the Belgians who combined better, both in the defence and attack.
Though India had the better of exchanges in the first-half, success eluded them. Belgian goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch had a few busy moments and came up with a couple of good saves while the upright too denied India.
However, it was Belgium who held the upper hand at the start as they troubled the Indian defence repeatedly with fast attacks, one of which saw Dekeyser slotting home from the top of the circle following a swift move down the middle.
As in the previous games, it was lax marking that allowed the Belgian forwards a lot of space to make their play and the Indian goal survived two penalty corners that were poorly executed.
At the other end, India managed to seize the initiative in the latter part of the first-half when they came up with some pleasing moves. However, once inside the striking circle, it was the same old tale of failure to finish.
Shivendra Singh saw his deflection come off the post and then Vanasch managed to get a glove to another attempt besides blocking a 21st minute penalty corner to frustrate India.
The trend continued on resumption with India unable to convert their second penalty corner as Vanasch, displaying quick-silver reflexes, deflected Sandeep Singh's drag-flick.
The Belgians then retaliated with a counter-attack that ended with Boccard finding the boards with a reverse hit after a series of passes inside the scoring circle. The Indian defenders again were loose in their marking and goalkeeper Bharat Chhetri let the ball in between his feet.
The second goal effectively closed the match for India and though they tried hard, success eluded them. The Belgian citadel enjoyed slices of luck, especially in the last quarter when the desperate Indians applied pressure, but again to no effect.
Belgium effectively closed the match with a late strike as Boon sounded the boards with a reverse hit even as a backpedalling Indian defence was caught on the wrong foot.