Fourteen-time champions Australia have become the first team to secure a place in the competition final at the Men’s Rabobank Hockey Champions Trophy 2018 event, which is currently taking place in Breda, the Netherlands.
The mighty Kookaburras achieved the feat with a match to spare thanks to a 3-1 victory over the host nation, with Blake Govers scoring twice for the title holders and reigning world champions.
The Netherlands can still reach Sunday’s showpiece final but will need to defeat in-form India, a team that currently sit second in the standings thanks in part to their 1-1 draw against Belgium today.
The day’s play began with a cracking contest between Argentina (FIH Hero World Ranking: 2) and Pakistan (WR:13), with the Asian giants claiming a win that both upset the world rankings and also effectively ended Argentina’s hopes of reaching the title match.
The opening two quarters were evenly contested, with Pakistan taking the lead in the first period when Muhammad Irfan Jr escaped the attentions of his marker to fire home before Los Leones drew level thanks to a wonderful break forward finished off by evergreen 36-year-old Matias Paredes.
The match remained finely balanced until the final quarter when Pakistan scored three times to take their fist win of the competition. Ali Mubashar slammed a low penalty corner drag-flick against the backboard in the 47th minute before Ajaz Ahmad made the score 3-1 just two minutes later. A superb 4-1 triumph was confirmed from the penalty spot, with Aleem Bilal making no mistake with a low effort to give the Greenshirts their first win of the competition.
“In the last three games we haven’t played very well, but today we beat the Olympic champions”, said Pakistan’s Ammad Butt on the occasion of his 100th international match. “I hope we can play even better in the upcoming games here.”
India (WR:6) came within two minutes of victory against higher-ranked Belgium (WR:3), with the Red Lions stealing a point with a late penalty corner as the match finished with the score locked at 1-1. Harmanpreet Singh's third goal of the competition put the Asian champions ahead with a penalty corner drag-flick in the 10th minute, a lead that was very much deserved.
The Indians went close to adding to their lead on numerous occasions but were wasteful in front of goal, something that the Belgians - who had 12 penalty corners in the match - were also guilty of. The equaliser arrived inside the final 90 seconds thanks to a terrific penalty corner flick from Loick Luypaert, who also had a chance to win it late on but was denied by Indian shot-stopper PR Sreejesh, who had a magnificent game.
“We played a wonderful game until maybe the 57th or 58th minute, but this is something we should learn from because even the very last seconds can count”, said Sreejesh, reflecting on the contest.
The stadium was awash with orange in the concluding match of the day, as the fans turned up in their thousands to watch home favourites the Netherlands (WR:4) face top-ranked Australia (WR:1). While the home supporters may not have got the desired result, they were certainly treated to a superb game of attacking hockey.
The Dutch went ahead midway through the second quarter thanks to a clever touch from Mirco Pruijser, but a fine strike from Blake Harvie ensured that the Australians went into half time on level terms. Blake Govers proved to be the match winner, scoring from open play in the third quarter before firing home from the penalty spot in the fourth period to put the Kookaburras right on track for a 15th Champions Trophy title.
When asked his thoughts about which team the Australians might face in the final, Blake Govers said: “To be honest we haven’t done any research. We heard over the speaker that we had made the final, but we don’t really worry about numbers at this stage. We just win what we can win, you know. The Dutch at home would be another nice game, or India. To be honest it is such a good tournament it doesn’t matter (who we face).”
The Men’s Rabobank Hockey Champions Trophy 2018 continues on Friday 29th June when Belgium’s Red Lions face the Greenshirts of Pakistan at 15:00 Central European Standard Time (UTC +1). A full schedule as well as broadcasting and official competition information can be found on FIH.CH, with extended coverage coming via the FIH social media channels.
A number of spectator tickets are still available for the five remaining competition days. For more information, please click here.