FIH Champions Trophy 2018: The road ahead for the teams after Day 5
Day five of the FIH Champions Trophy was a real surprise for one and all. Contrary to the expectations, Pakistan, already out of contention for the finals, stunned Olympic champions Argentina by 4-1, threatening their chances to make it to the finals. India denied Belgium a much-needed win with a 1-1 draw, knocking them out of contention.
On the other hand, Australia defeated hosts Netherlands by 3-1 to seal their spot in the finals.
Argentina vs. Pakistan: Olympic champions out of finals
When you got nothing to lose, you have everything to gain. Already out of contention for the finals, Pakistan finally opened their account, upsetting Argentina by a whopping 4-1 in the opening match for Day five of the FIH Men's Hockey Champions Trophy, held at Breda, Netherlands.
Muhammad Irfan opened the Pakistani account only 10 minutes into the game with a crisp field goal, giving Pakistan a lead of 1-0.
However, their celebration didn't last too long, in the second quarter, Argentina equalized the score only a minute before the halftime, with Matias Enrique Paredes scoring for the current Olympic champions.
For the next one quarter, it was a tussle for who could control the ball better. Argentina was no doubt aggressive, but they were not as efficient as Pakistan looked. The team coached by the former Indian gaffer Roelant Oltmans had finally come their way.
In the last quarter, the aggression gave way as Pakistan struck three back to back goals, within a span of 11 minutes. While Mubashir Ali scored in the 47th minute, converting on a brilliant penalty corner, Ajaz Ahmad scored a crisp field goal in the 49th minute, extending the lead to 3-1.
Desperate for a comeback, an apprehensive Argentina went on the offensive, which cost them dearly. In the 50th and 52nd minute, captain Pedro Ibarra and Matias Rey were shown yellow cards, reducing Argentina to just nine playing men.
In the 58th minute, a foul committed by Argentina blessed Pakistan with a penalty stroke, and Aleem Muhammad Bilal wasted no time in converting that into the 4th goal. Pakistan will now play their final match against Belgium.
India vs. Belgium: The 'Men in Blue' stay strong
Down but not out, India gave it their all in the match against Belgium. A minor error in the dying minutes denied them of a well-deserved win, yet the draw of 1-1 against Belgium has not only helped them stay in contention but also knocked Belgium out from reaching the finals.
Learning from the mistakes against Australia, India was aggressive from the word go. Coach Harendra Singh inspired his boys to give their best, and soon enough, he had reasons to smile.
Making no mistake, star drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh converted a penalty corner brilliantly in the 10th minute to give India the lead.
The lead was finally broken in the dying minutes of the match, when Loick Luypaert converted a penalty corner into the goal, equalizing the score by 1-1.
However, the last minute effort wasn't enough for Belgium, as they're out of contention from the finals, with no wins, three draws and a loss against the Netherlands.
They might have scored a goal from a short corner, but the fact that they missed 10 penalty corners to score one, doesn't sound great for the Olympic silver medalists.
A huge credit goes to the Indian defenders Surender Kumar, Birendra Lakra and Amit Rohidas, along with goalkeeper P R Sreejesh, who denied them every single opportunity. Even a last minute gasp to turn the tables failed, as Sreejesh stood tall in front of the Indian goal, solid as a rock.
Though India also failed to convert three of their four penalty corners, it was still a significant improvement from the disastrous show at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. With this draw, the Men in Blue are still in contention for the finals.
Australia vs. Netherlands: Defending champions seal the spot for finals
For Australia, the match against Netherlands was more of a practice match, rather than some action-packed, crisp hockey for the duration of 60 minutes, as they defeated the Netherlands by a comfortable score of 3-1, sealing the spot for the finals.
Jake Harvie and Blake Govers scored for Australia with the latter having a brace. While Mirco Pruyser established himself as the tournament's top goalscorer, with his fourth goal in this edition, struck at the 23rd minute.
The road ahead
With the end of Day five, Australia has sealed their spot for the finals. Their last match against Argentina is a mere formality.
For Argentina, however, this match is nothing less than a do or die, in order to stay in contention for the medal playoffs.
Given that the loss against Pakistan has officially knocked them out of contention for the finals, a win or even a draw against Australia will at least ensure their place in the bronze medal playoff.
On the other hand, with a draw against Belgium, all India now needs to get into the finals for a second successive time is either a win or a simple draw against the Netherlands.
While coach Harendra Singh wouldn't want anything less than a win against the hosts in the final league match, a draw would do the job.
This is because hosts Netherlands will finish with two wins, one draw and two losses. In case of a draw, but for India, it would be two wins, two draws and a solitary loss, and thus they gain an upper hand.
If India makes it to their second successive finals, this shall be a historic opportunity to bring back the coveted trophy to Asia after 24 years, which they'd missed by a whisker in 2016.
Following is the lineup for the final leg of league matches in this Champions Trophy:-
- 29 June - Belgium vs. Pakistan
- 30 June - Argentina vs. Australia
- 30 June - INDIA vs. Netherlands
Can India reach the finals of the FIH Champions Trophy? Sound off your opinions in the comments section below!