Ever since the inception of Champions Trophy in 1978, India have not been able to win the coveted cup even once and their best finish, thus far, was the third spot in 1982. Yet, Indians have recently made fine strides and they stand their best chance at Bhubaneswar. In the last match of the inaugural day, India lost by a solitary goal in the dying moments of the game to Germany, who have the distinction of winning the champions trophy 9 times. In other matches on the opening day, England sprang a surprise by defeating Australia 3-1; Belgium overpowered Pakistan 2-1 and the Netherlands beat Argentina 3-0.
India have been bracketed in Group B that has Netherlands and Argentina besides Germany and the confidence of the Indian team has been high since winning the hockey test series against mighty Australia less than a month ago. The series victory was even more creditable since it was achieved on Australia’s home soil. Indians took to field yesterday with the full knowledge about Germany’s tremendous hockey capability that has brought them Olympic and European championships. But they were not overawed after the recent display of fluent hockey in Asian Games and the tour down under. The match began with Germany getting into the India half in the opening minutes. In the 4th minute, however, India made a counter-attack as Sunil moved swiftly but the moment was wasted. Two minutes later, India launched another attack on the German goal but Akashdeep’s shot was off target. The first penalty corner award went to Germany in the 8th minute but could not be converted. One minute before the end of the first quarter, India earned their first penalty corner but the chance proved wasteful. For most part of the first quarter, the game kept people on the edge. India began the second quarter aggressively, when Dharamvir ran from the flanks and shot the ball for Akashdeep but the Indian failed to trap cleanly and a German defender cleared the ball. In the 26th minute, Germany came close to scoring but India’s goalkeeper Sreejesh made a brilliant save. Two minutes later, India came up with one more counter-attack when Dharamvir created a chance by sending a cross from the flanks but couldn’t find anyone to make the crucial touch. The second quarter too ended goalless but India’s forward-line displayed their prowess in these last 15 minutes. In the third quarter, both teams continued with their aggressive strategies and within 2 minutes Germany earned a penalty corner. But Sreejesh flew into the air to make a brilliant save. India made a great move in the 37th minute but Sardar Singh’s shot was blocked by the German goalkeeper. Germany made a few attacks as well but the third quarter could not produce any goals. The start of the fourth quarter was a bit sluggish but Germany earned another penalty corner in the 49th minute and muffed it despite an innovative try. India launched another offensive in the 53rd minute but again failed to finish near the goalmouth. With 44 seconds remaining, Germany broke Indian hearts by scoring a wonderful goal. India losing the match 1-0 in dying seconds brought 7000 spectators into an eerie silence since the home team had played well against a mighty opponent.
In the first match, earlier in the day, a brace from England’s Samuel Ward shocked the five-time defending champion Australia 3-1 in the opening match of the Champions Trophy. Alastair Brogdon scored the other goal for England and Australia cut England’s victory margin by one goal, when Chris Ciriello found the mark from a penalty-corner. Due to injuries, Australia were without the services of Jamie Dwyer, Mark Knowles, Kieran Govers and Joel Carroll and this affected their game. Both teams displayed black bands around their arms in a solemn respect for cricketer Phillip Hughes, who died last week under tragic circumstances.
In the second match of the day, Belgium snatched a 2-1 victory over Pakistan from a delightful goal scored by Thomas Briels in the third quarter. Belgium went ahead in the 12th minute, when Tanguy Cosyns struck the target after an attack from the left but Pakistan squared up through a penalty stroke after the second quarter. In the 43rd minute, Briels restored the lead with a delicate flip after Tom Boon produced a lovely stick-work and passed the ball to Briel.
The third match saw Netherlands producing a 3-0 win over Argentina. Two of those goals came from the field work while one was a converted penalty corner out of five awarded to the Dutch. Argentina also had several scoring chances but either they were denied by the Dutch defense or missed the target. The Argentinians, who surprised everyone by taking the bronze at the World Cup, fought hard but the Dutch wouldn’t allow the liberty to them.
In the next pool B matches; the Netherlands will face Germany, Argentina will take on India. In pool A, Australia will play Belgium while England will face Pakistan.