Semifinals of Champions TrophyIn the first quarterfinal on December 11, Pakistan sprang a surprise by beating the Pool B toppers Holland in a spirited hockey show while the last QF game saw India producing a remarkable performance against Belgium after trailing 0-2 within the first 18 minutes. After that Sardar’s men scored four goals to set up a semifinal show down with arch-rivals Pakistan. In the second quarterfinal, Australia also displayed their mettle at crunch time and got the better of Argentina. The third game produced a heartbreaking 0-2 loss for Pool A toppers England against Germany. Until now, England had looked the best team in the tournament. India had lost to Belgium in this year’s World Cup at The Hague and therefore the victory was a sweet revenge as well. But the best performance of the day came from Pakistan, who had remained winless at league stages but they struck the hammer, when it mattered most. On Saturday, Germany will take on Australia in the second semifinal. It was ironical that toppers in both Pools made exit and there was heavy criticism in sports media about the strange new format adopted by the International Hockey Federation. However, no one is complaining about it in the Indian sub-continent.

Bhubaneswar’s Kalinga Stadium became an arena of joy as India performed admirably, undaunted by a 0-2 score against them. For home crowd, it was a thrilling experience as India’s hockey stars composed themselves after the initial setback and forced themselves in the den of the Red Lions. India made a confident start by attacking the Belgian goal early but Dharamvir Singh slipped and couldn’t connect to a great through cross from Nikkin Thimmaiah. Belgium earned a Penalty Corner in the next minute and with Felix Denayer making no mistake, they shot ahead to a 1-0 lead. The lead was doubled in 18th minute, when Sebastien Dockier made it 2-0 from a lovely field goal as his hard strike from the top of the D went past Sreejesh. India cut the margin immediately to 2-1 from a nicely executed Penalty Corner, when Rupinder Pal Singh’s flick got lodged into the top-right corner. With this goal, India bounced back into the game and played brilliantly for the rest of the match. In 27th minute, the equalizer came, when VR Ragunath’s cross into the D was smartly deflected into the goal by S Uthappa. In the third quarter, Belgium tried to get back but Indian defenders not only stopped them but mounted counter-offensives as well. In the 41st minute, Akashdeep Singh put India in front, when he sounded the board after Sunil’s shot was blocked by the goalkeeper and the rebound came to him. India’s fourth goal came in the 49th minute from an extremely engaging effort. Manpreet got hold of the ball from a Belgian forward in India’s half and passed it to Sardar. The India captain passed it to Dharamvir who held his nerves and coolly put the ball between the legs of the Belgian goalkeeper to make it 4-2 for India.

In the first quarterfinal earlier, Pakistan played with a renewed resolve and literally dominated Holland in most parts of the game. In 12 champions’ trophy attempts, it was Pakistan’s first victory over the Dutch since Lahore in 1998. As the match began, the Dutch went into Pakistani half and drew the first blood, when Jeroen Hertzberger scored a beautiful field goal in 6th minute. The Dutch would have doubled their lead next minute but Pakistan captain Muhammad Imran made a brilliant on-the-line save after Mink van der Weerden had executed a deadly drag-flick. But Pakistan kept their composure despite initial forays by Holland forwards and came up with numerous counter-attacks. Pakistan found the equalizer in the 16th minute, when Umar Bhutta collected a pass from Muhammad Waqas and went solo in the D before shooting home. In 25th minute, Pakistan took a 2-1 lead, when Imran produced a low flick from a penalty-corner. It was a see-saw affair for a while as the Dutch restored parity in 34th minute, when a right-flank cross from Rogier Hofman was neatly connected by Constantijn Jonker. In a high pressure fourth half, Pakistan scored twice in quick succession to make it 4-2. Both goals came from Muhammad Irfan, who converted two penalty corners; first in the 51st minute and the next a minute later.

Australia reached the semifinal by beating Argentina 4-2 after a sketchy performance in league games earlier. They took 1-0 lead in 6th minute, when a stinging cross from Russell Ford was deflected by Simon Orchard into the goal. Within a minute from the start of the second quarter, Argentina equalized, with a superb build up between Lucas Vila and Facundo Callioni with their captain Matias Paredes driving a great volley into the goal. In 35th minute, Argentina led 2-1, when Manuel Brunet scored a field goal after a classic move. The score was brought to 2-2, two minutes later by Jeremy Hayward from a drag-flick off a penalty corner. In the 42nd minute, Australia took the lead once again from a field goal by Daniel Beale and Chris Ciriello consolidated from a penalty-corner to make it 4-2 for Australia.

In the third quarterfinal, England disappointing lost the quarterfinal against Germany after a great performance in league phase. But credit must go to Germany for putting up a great show. They won five penalty corners in the opening ten minutes but couldn’t convert any. The first goal came from the sixth Penalty Corner with Moritz Furste finding the target. German goalkeeper made some fine saves to deny England, though Tim Whiteman and Nick Catlin impressed with their link-up play. England tried to come back in the last quarter but Germany struck yet again in 58th minute from a fine effort by Christopher Ruhr, who calmly finished from close range.