India came close. They didn’t allow Australia to dominate and looked a better team in the second half. Yet, they lost the 2016 Hero Hockey Champions Trophy to Australia. The result of the goalless match came in the shoot-out, thanks to Australia’s valiant goalkeeper Tyler Lovell. The brilliant custodian conceded just one goal and saved everything else to break a billion Indian hearts. But it will also be proper to credit the Australians for lifting the championship crown, because their performance all through the tournament was exemplary. They didn’t lose a single match and except the drawn game against hosts Great Britain on opening day, the Kookaburras won everything else. As for India, they can take heart from the fact that in the 36-year history of the tournament, they entered the Champions Trophy final for the first time. Up until yesterday, India’s best finish was a bronze medal victory in the Amstelveen’s 1982 edition.
The 2016 Hero Hockey Champions Trophy final became dramatic in the end. After losing the match 1-3 in shoot-out, India protested against the second shoot-out retake awarded to Australia. By then, trophies were placed on the ground and many spectators had left the stadium. Daniel Beale was halted by PR Sreejesh as he dribbled the ball forward but failed to get the better of Sreejesh. Beale asked for a referral and the Video umpire awarded a retake on the ground that Sreejesh had committed a foul. However, India claimed that Sreejesh had stopped Beale only after the regulatory 8 seconds, during which Beale should have completed the shootout. The officials held discussions on India’s protest on the validity of retake, but after due deliberations, the protest was rejected by FIH Technical Delegation. In their statement, FIH expressed its appreciation to the teams, media and fans for their patience and understanding of the need to follow due process, which had to be in line with competition regulations. The FIH thanked the Indian team for graciously accepting the result and congratulated Australia on claiming their 14th Champions Trophy.
Earlier as the match began, not even the most die-hard Indian fan would have given India much chance against the hockey powerhouse Australia. The Kookaburras got off to their usual racy start and earned a penalty corner in the 10th minute. Since the shot struck Raghunath’s stick, Australia got the second PC immediately. Though Sreejesh went down to thwart the attempt, two ricochets from Indian sticks made it third and fourth Penalty Corners for the Aussies in a space of one minute. After India survived the onslaught, they earned their own PC in 13th minute but a controversial save from Australia prompted India to demand a penalty stroke. The referee ruled that out and instead awarded another PC. After the goalless first quarter, Australia earned their fifth PC in the 18th minute and since the ball touched Surender Kumar’s foot, Australia were awarded a penalty stroke. But luck favored India as Blake Govers’ shot went wide off the left post. Five minutes later, Australia got two more PCs but none could be converted because the brilliant Sreejesh would not allow anything to pass him. In the 29th minute, India also earned a PC but Raghunath’s drag flick was saved by Australian goalkeeper.
After the breathtakingly speedy first half, India took charge in the third quarter but Australia forked out a pair of PC opportunities in the 35th and 37th minutes and so did India in the 40th minute. But all 4 PCs went abegging. In the 42nd minute, Australia were reduced to 9 men with two of their players receiving green and yellow cards. India had the numbers’ advantage for a while, but they couldn’t find the elusive goal since the Australian custodian was as brilliant as Sreejesh between poles. In the fourth quarter, India continued with the higher percentage of ball possession and Australia were still one man short. In the 54th minute, Australia wasted their 10th PC. Three minutes from close, India also lost one man, when Chandanda Thimmaiah was yellow-carded. But soon, the regulation period ended and shoot-out ensued.
Australia began with Aran Zalewski, who gave them a 1-0 edge. To India’s bad luck, SK Uthappa couldn’t control the shot and missed. Australia took a 2-0 lead after the controversial re-take by Daniel Beale and with SV Sunil missing for India, it was 2-0 for Australia. Australia’s third attempt by Trent Milton was blocked by Sreejesh and India cut the deficit next with Harmanpreet Singh scoring. The score of 2-1 in Australia’s favor became 3-1 with Simon Orchard converting next. Then the match was settled decisively for the Kookaburras, when India missed again. Surrender Kumar failed to convert and Australia won the champions Trophy for the 14th time in 36 years.
Earlier in the day, Germany won the Bronze medal by defeating hosts Great Britain 1-0. Britain played brilliant hockey but lost, when tournament top-scorer Marco Miltkau netted a 40th minute goal. For the fifth place, Belgium defeated Korea 4-3. Belgium were down 1-3 in the fourth quarter but scored two field goals and converted a penalty corner in the last 11 minutes to finish fifth in the tournament.
Though one Champions Trophy has concluded, another one will begin on Saturday. In the first match of the Women’s Hockey Champions Trophy, USA will take on Australia and the hockey fans at Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis center will continue to have fun for another week.
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