After three days at the Hero Hockey Champions Trophy in Bhubaneswar, all league games have been played and the quarterfinal line-up is crystal clear. In Pool B, Netherlands finished on top, Argentina was second and the mighty Germany dropped to the fourth spot. Why? Because on the last day, India produced an exemplary display and defeated the Olympic and World Cup finalists Netherlands 3-2 in their last league game. It was a great morale booster for the hosts after they lost their first two matches. India had suffered a heartbreaking last-minute loss against Germany on the opening day and went down 2-4 against Argentina on Sunday. But on Tuesday, India turned the tables on the Pool leaders by beating them with goals scored by SV Sunil, Manpreet Singh and Rupinder Singh. They will take on the yet-undefeated Belgium in the last quarterfinal on Thursday, December 11. In other quarterfinal matches; Netherlands will play Pakistan, Argentina will take on Australia and England will meet Germany.
On Tuesday, the sell-out Kalinga Stadium crowd watched India play the Netherlands and after their first two league losses against Germany and Argentina, no one thought much about India’s chances. However, the overwhelming national fervor brought tremendous optimism and India ended the day with the crowd going home utterly satisfied. The match began with a thrilling first quarter, in which an Akashdeep Singh shot was blocked by Dutch goalkeeper Pirman Blaak and the Dutch came close to scoring with dangerous moves from Jelle Galema and Robert van der Horst. India’s ace goalkeeper and vice-captain Sreejesh stood like a rock and didn’t allow any easy liberty to the mercurial Dutchmen. The Netherlands got their first penalty corner in the closing stages of the second quarter but Mink van der Weerden’s drag-flick could only hit the crossbar. After two quarters the score still remained tied at 0-0.
India took the lead from SV Sunil’s deflection in the third quarter and despite the video referral by Holland, the goal was confirmed. But pretty soon, the cheering noise in the stadium died down, when van der Weerden equalized for Holland through the third penalty corner. In the fourth quarter, India’s Manpreet Singh and Rupinder Singh scored from penalty corner flicks and India led 3-1 but Van der Weerden reduced the margin by one goal from a penalty corner conversion even as two minutes still remained in the match. In the end, however, it was a highly satisfying day for the hosts with the final score reading 3-2.
Earlier on day two, India had lost their second league match against World Cup Bronze medalists Argentina. It was a fast-paced game and despite the 4-2 score-line going in favor of Argentina. India matched them in the game. Egged on by the full-house at the Kalinga Stadium, India dominated the game in the first quarter. One of their goals was disallowed since the ball hadn’t travelled the required distance. Sardar Singh could have scored towards the end of the first quarter but Argentine goalkeeper made a terrific deflection. Just as the second quarter was coming to an end, Akashdeep Singh scored from a long midfield pass. But in next to no time, Argentina leveled the score. In the second quarter too, India struck first, when Gurjinder Singh converted a penalty corner but Argentina leveled up 2-2 immediately afterwards, when Juan Lopez scored for the South Americans. The response of the Argentinians was similar to finding the quick equalizer after the first goal from Akashdeep earlier on. In the fourth quarter, Argentina scored two more goals and emerged 4-2 winners in the end.
On third day, Argentina scored another win and this time they defeated Germany 3-0 and collected 6 points to finish second behind the Dutch in Pool B. After the goalless first quarter, Argentina played marvelously in the second and scored two goals to make it 2-0 at half time. Germany had some good chances in the third quarter but failed to convert. Argentina finished the day with another goal in the fourth quarter to make it 3-0.
On Sunday, Germany also lost to the Netherlands 1-4 as the Dutch produced a solid performance. They led 3-0 at halftime and their game was full of precision and appealing trickery. With nine minutes left, the Dutch made it 4-0. Germany’s consolation goal came from Florian Fuchs four minutes later.
England and Belgium remained the unbeaten teams in Pool A but England finished first because Belgium had two draws including the one against England on Tuesday. Belgium had taken an early lead but England found the equalizer with 13 minutes remaining in the match. In Pool A, Australia’s only league victory came against Pakistan, when they beat the Asian nation 3-0. Australia and Belgium were locked in a scintillating 4-4 draw on Sunday but Pakistan lost all their league matches and now face the Netherlands in the first quarterfinal game on Thursday.
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