On a dramatic fifth day’s play at Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis center in London, India entered the final of the 2016 Hero Champions Trophy after their loss against Australia. But India’s fate wasn’t immediately known since everything depended on the last match of the day between hosts Great Britain and the Belgian Red Lions. In between, there was an inconsequential league game between Germany and Korea and therefore, the Indian team had to wait for a minimum of three hours before the crucial Britain-Belgium match was concluded. The team had left the ground after their 2-4 loss against the Kookaburras and watched the last game from the hotel. When the match ended as a 3-3 draw, Britain had collected 6 points and Belgium 5 at the end of all their league games. Since India already had 7 points, they went through to the final without any further field action. Now they have another chance against Australia in the summit clash on Friday.
In the first match on Thursday, Australia scored their fourth victory in five games. The Kookaburras had already ensured the final berth but they didn’t know who their opponents would be in the title game. Even after their 4-2 victory over India, the confusion continued to prevail. It wasn’t as if India surrendered but Australia were the better team on the day and made a characteristic fast start in raiding the Indian territory. Therefore, India had to rest content with defending the goal and it wasn’t until the seventh minute that India’s first attack came. Striker Surender Kumar sent a cross into the D from right flank but Australian goalkeeper cleared the ball away before any Indian could connect to the cross. After the goalless first quarter, Australia mounted pressure and opened the scoring in 20th minute, when Trent Mitton converted a penalty corner. Three minutes later, Australia’s lead was doubled with another penalty corner conversion by Aran Zalewski.
The Kookaburras made it 3-0, when Flynn Ogilvie produced a field goal in the third quarter. However, in the 45th minute, VR Raghunath converted a penalty corner to pull one goal back. The pleasure was short-lived as the Australians embellished their lead to 4-1, when Tristan White came up with his third goal in three matches. India really stormed the Australian D in the fourth quarter and after Mandeep Singh reduced the deficit to 4-2, India had several scoring chances. But shot-stopper Tyler Lovell made several clearances and ensured the 4-2 win for Australia.
Both India and Australia needed to wait until the last match of the day between Great Britain and Belgium to know about the other finalist of 2016 Champions Trophy. It was a do-or-die game for both teams since Britain’s victory would have sent them into the final with 8 points while Belgium would have come on level with India’s 7 points and could have entered the final on better goal difference. Therefore India hoped for a drawn game and they got lucky in the end. The match started with Belgium going into the lead within 40 seconds, when Thomas Briels connected to a cross and sent the ball into the goal. There were no other goals in the first quarter. With 5 minutes left in the second, GBR captain Barry Middleton scored from a penalty corner deflection. Just before halftime, Belgium regained the lead with Loick Luypaert converting a penalty corner. In the 42nd minute, Belgium made it 3-1 from another penalty corner conversion by Loick Luypaert. Just when Belgium looked like certain winners, Great Britain produced a fantastic dying-stage effort from two field goals and drew the match 3-3. The first one came in 57th minute from David Ames and the second two minutes later, when Middleton scored his second goal of the match.
The draw helped Britain stay in the tournament for the bronze medal game against Germany but the result turned out to be most precious for India. Watching the action from their hotel, the Indian players would have broken into instant hugging and celebration. Now, they need to prepare themselves for Friday’s final outing against the mighty Australians.
The second game between Germany and Korea was a whitewash for the South Asian nation as Germany scored at will. Having already exited championship contention, the 2014 champions redeemed themselves with a 7-0 thrashing of Korea. In a superb display, Germany’s Constantin Staib and Oskar Deecke both scored 2 goals. While Staib’s goals were field efforts, Deecke converted a 29th penalty before scoring Germany’s fifth goal from the field in 35th minute. The other German scorers were Tom Grambusch, Timm Herzbruch and Marco Miltkau.
Friday will be the last day for 2016 men’s Hero Hockey Champions Trophy. Apart from the Australia-India final, Germany and Great Britain will play for 3rd and 4th places and Belgium and Korea for 5th and 6th. However the action at the Lee Valley Hockey & Tennis center will continue because from Saturday, the women’s Championship Trophy would begin and viewers are assured of another week of high quality hockey. India will not be a part of that tournament, which has participation from USA, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and of course the hosts, Great Britain.