This was the 36th edition of coveted Champions Trophy and ironically it was the first ever final for India. India came 3rd in 1982, when they overcame 3 goal deficits to beat arch rival Pakistan 5-4. Zafar Iqbal scored the goal for medal then and many termed the match as the match of century. Finishing second this time is their best show. Argentina was the original host but due to disputes in television rights, hosting was shifted to England.
All the kudos must go to India. They qualified for the final by collecting only 7 points in the group phase, which has happened only twice in 36 year history of the cup. They frustrated the world no. 1 for full allotted time of the game. It was very uncharacteristic for the kookaburras who are used to cake walk, especially in the final. In previous 3 meetings, the Aussies have crushed India by a difference of 4 goals. They have displayed no sign of mercy on any opponent either. In such a storming condition, holding the ship is an act of courage and determination. Their ball possession in the final quarter was 79% which is a dream for any team in the world, playing against yellows. One decision went against India in the shootout which could have changed the complexion of the game. It was the retake of the second shootout in the penalty shootouts. India appealed against this umpiring decision to FIH.
Sreeejesh was in top form throughout the week. His triple save against Belgium was brilliant. He absorbed the pressure and saved the ball to be in the goal when Australia took 4 penalty conrers in a row in the first half of the final. All the hockey lovers, specially Sreejesh lovers will cherish these moments for a long time.
The tournament has also marked the second coming of Mandeep Singh. His previous two years were on and off the proper roster. The 21 year old boy from Punjab has made his second coming with 3 worthy goals. He is again touching his brilliance. Harmanpreet is the investment for the future which will surely pay rich dividends. He is a reliable sweeper, passes the ball accurately, knows the basics of the game and a lethal drag flicker. He is a complete player, someone India is longing in recent years.
All the teams were in somewhat experimental stage. Tom Boon, Furste, Fuches, Cirello, Jemie Dwyer were notable absentee or warming benches in the tournament. In Rio, they will be back in top gear. Penalty corner conversion rate of India was surprisingly low. It was about 17%. Here, coach and team have to work. Old bad habit of conceding late goals has to be kept at bay in the Olympics. Mind should be calm and team should avoid punishing cards. Team is bubbling with talent and confidence. Coach Oltmans must be a very busy man to choose the best out of the best. This time, men in Blue are in their best shape and health for a medal at the Olympics since 1980. For Rio, they should maintain this tempo and this could be their calling card.
Author – Vijay Anand