Hockey Champions Trophy 2018: Argentina surprise Australia, India storm into finals
Day 7 of the FIH Champions Trophy 2018 brought out unexpected results in the last leg of league matches. While Olympic champions Argentina gave defeating Australia a nasty shock, defeating them 3-2 to make the cut for the bronze medal playoffs, Team INDIA survived a last-minute scare from hosts the Netherlands to storm into their 2nd successive finals of the FIH Men's Hockey Champions Trophy 2018.
Argentina vs Australia: Olympic champions make it to the bronze playoffs:
Though knocked out from the finals, Olympic champions Argentina had nothing to lose in their final league match and proved soon enough why they're the Olympic champions. Not letting a single error jeopardize their plans, Argentina shocked defending champions Australia by 3-2.
Argentina's star drag-flicker Gonzalo Peillat proved why he is the king of his trade. Once he opened the account of the Argentine team in the 13th minute, there was no looking back. Though Australia struck back in the 16th minute with a goal by Tim Brand, it was a futile pursuit, as Gonzalo was literally on a roll. Scoring again in the 21st and 51st minute, Gonzalo not only had a hattrick for himself but also jumped up to the topper's position in terms of scoring the maximum goals, with 6 goals in his kitty.
Interestingly, all of the Argentine goals came from penalty corners. Tim Brand scored again in the 52nd minute, but it was too late by then for Australia. Argentina, with this win, has jumped up to the 4th position, and will now play hosts Netherlands for the bronze medal tomorrow.
On the other hand, Belgium, who were dependent on this match for a chance at the podium, will now have to play against Pakistan to avoid the wooden spoon, i.e. the last position in the FIH Champions Trophy.
India vs the Netherlands: Asian powerhouse on the cusp of creating history:-
In an action-packed match, with both teams running high on adrenaline, India squandered another chance to stage a big upset against hosts Netherlands, despite holding them at bay for more than three quarters. However, a last-minute attempt to turn the tables was ably thwarted by the Indian defenders, giving India the much-needed draw against hosts Netherlands by 1-1 in order to make the cut for the finals.
The Indian team was out all guns blazing from the very word go. Intent on not letting the Netherlands have their way, the defenders shone like diamonds, denying the Netherlands every single chance to break their defense and score goals. Though they received a penalty corner in the very 3rd minute of the match, they failed to convert the same. The Dutch had it worse, failing to convert any of their four penalty corners in time.
For one full half, neither of the teams could score. Despite ample chances to either team, the defenders stood solid as a rock. It was only in the final quarter when the Netherlands finally gave in, and Mandeep Singh scored well on a rebound to give India a lead of 1-0.
Down but not out, Netherlands fought back and found a chink soon enough, which gave enough space Theirry Brinkmann to equalize the score by 1-1 in the 54th minute. In the last two minutes, Netherlands gave it their all and earned a penalty corner in the dying seconds of the game.
However, bouncing back in the nick of time, the Indian defenders denied the Netherlands the much-needed goal and made it to their 2nd successive finals after the historic edition of 2016. The Netherlands will now play Olympic champions Argentina for the bronze medal playoffs.
Can India bring Champions Trophy back?
With 2 wins, 2 draws and a solitary loss against defending champions Australia, Team India has made it to their 2nd successive finals. This is not only historic in terms of their performance since 2016, but also on the note that they were not even considered as contenders for the finals the moment they touched down in the Netherlands.
A major credit goes to Harendra Singh, the new coach, who has miraculously converted India from the 'chokers' that they're notorious as, into a lethal unit that is capable of giving the best a run for their money.
Infamous as India's 'Achilles' Heel', the defenders surprised one and all with a power packed performance, assisting goalkeeper cum skipper Sreejesh in every way possible. Barring the exception of Australia, they denied every other team a chance to win, which is a huge improvement from the disastrous outing at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018, where India finished outside the medal bracket for the first time since Melbourne 2006.
It's been 24 years since an Asian team has taken back the coveted Champions Trophy. Given that India had narrowly missed the chance to become one such team in 2016, can they take the final edition of the FIH Champions Trophy, once famous as the 'Mini World Cup of Hockey', back home? Though it is easier than done, we can surely say: YES, THEY CAN! This is because Australia is nowhere near the invincible unit they were at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018.
Though they've managed to win three matches against the Netherlands, India, and Pakistan, they barely managed to draw against Olympic silver medalists Belgium, and just lost to Olympic champions Argentina. When they compete against India in the finals, they shall certainly be under pressure, and this can be smartly exploited by the current Indian team. For now, here is the list of the final playoffs, as shall occur on 1st of July:-
Belgium vs. Pakistan [5th - 6th Place Playoff]
Argentina vs. the Netherlands [Bronze Medal Playoff]
India vs. Australia [Finals]