Semifinal of Hockey Champions ind vas pakIn the hockey battle reminiscent from their historical rivalry, India and Pakistan brought Bhubaneswar’s Kalinga Stadium alive but the hosts lost in the end to the disappointment of the home fans. In a closely fought contest, Pakistan edged past the Indians in the last few minutes of the match to record a 4-3 victory and entered the final. The decisive goal came from Muhammad Arslan Qadir, who charged into the D with less than two minutes left and slammed past India goalkeeper Sreejesh. Pakistan thus maintained their unbeaten record against India in the Champions Trophy. In the final on Sunday, Pakistan will play with Germany, who beat the defending champions Australia 3-2 in the other semifinal. Germany dethroned the Aussie Hockey team that has kept the Trophy with them since 2008 by building a big 3-0 lead in early stages but Australia fought back to cut the margin by two goals by some fierce hockey towards the end. On Sunday, India and Australia will fight out for the third and fourth places in the tournament. Ironically, both finalists in this year’s champions’ trophy are teams, which finished at the bottom of their pools in the league phase of the tournament.

In a determined start, Pakistan raided India’s goal straightaway with Indian goalkeeper Sreejesh being tested in early minutes. The first chance for Pakistan came, when Muhammad Dilbar had only the goalkeeper to beat but Sreejesh made a brilliant save. A few minutes later, Pakistan came close to scoring yet again, when Shafqat Rasool’s threatening cross was deflected wide of the goal by Umar Bhutta. India also had their chances but they wasted them, when Sardar Singh, Nikkin, SV Sunil and Ramandeep Singh all shot wide in needless optimism. Unlike their performance against Belgium, India’s display against Pakistan was sloppy as they lost the ball far too quickly and more frequently. In the defense line, Rupinder Pal Singh was a shadow of his former self and allowed Pakistani forwards to break into Indian territory more often. Despite the organized game from Pakistan, it was India, who opened the scoring in the 11th minute, when they earned their first penalty corner. Gurjinder Singh produced a powerful flick that took the ball to the left corner. Pakistan appealed against the corner, but their referral was disallowed. In the 13th minute, India’s Gurbaj Singh fell over a Pakistani forward and was promptly yellow-carded with a 10-minute suspension and Pakistan earned their first penalty corner. However, Sreejesh nicely blocked Shakeel Ahmed Butt’s shot and the first quarter ended with India leading 1-0.

As the second quarter began, Pakistan capitalized on Gurbaj’s 10-minute suspension and equalized from a brilliant move by Muhammad Arsalan Qadir, who caught the Indian defense off guard and neatly deflected a cross sent by Shakeel Ahmed Butt. Soon afterwards, India earned their second penalty corner but Rupinder’s rocket-like hit was solidly blocked by Pakistan goalkeeper Imran Butt. India played with higher attacking quotient in the second quarter but couldn’t breach the Pakistani goal and the quarter finished at 1-1.

The third-quarter was a high-action play with India mounting repeated attack. But it was Pakistan, who changed the score in their favor, when a neat cross from Arsalan Qadir was tipped into the goal. Indian team rushed to the referee for review but with changed back-stick rule, referee confirmed the goal. One minute later, India got a penalty corner, which had to be taken again as the first strike bounced off from the stick of a Pakistani player. The next attempt from Raghunath was miles away from the goal. With three minutes remaining, India restored 2-2 parity, when Dharamvir scored from a superb field goal after he got the ball from Akashdeep Singh’s great run from the flank.

The last quarter was a do-or-die for both sides and the pace of the match got frenetic. In 46th minute, a pass from Rupinder found Sardar in a perfect position but Sardar wasted the golden chance as he shot wide. In 49th minute, Pakistan’s Muhammad Irfan scored from a penalty corner but within a minute, Nikkin Thimmaiah equalized from a fine field goal to make the score 3-3. With very little time left, Arsalan Qadir scored a brilliant field goal and though India made a counter-attack, they couldn’t achieve the equalizer. The spirit of the game was momentarily jolted, when some Pakistani players brandished at the crowd with the shirts taken off from their bodies. A lot of people found the gestures as obscene but the FIH didn’t take any action.

In the other semifinal, Germany began by scoring two goals in the first 9 minutes. The first goal was scored by Timur Oruz, who produced a delicate caress to a diagonal pass from Lukas Windfeder and minutes later, Mats Grambusch extedned the lead when the ball landed in his path and his powerful strike got deflected from Fergus Kavanagh’s foot. This gave no blocking chance to the Aussie goalkeeper Andrew Charter. Until the half time, Germany led 2-0 but they enhanced the lead to 3-0, one minute into the third quarter. Australia had their chances but first Jeremy Hayward shot wide and then Russell Ford was denied by the German keeper Nicolas Jacobi with a superb diving stick. Australia cut the margin by one goal in the 34th minute, when Ciriello scored from a field goal and 7 minutes later, Nick Budgeon benefitted from a mad scramble in front of the German goal and found the target to make it 3-2. In the remaining period, no more goals could be scored and it was celebration time for Germany.