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Monday, December 5, 2011

Champions Chellange - Johannesburg - India loses to Belgium in the finals

This man is unlikely to be unidentified – he is  Michael Nobbs.

At Johannesburg, in the Semis, Star drag-flicker Sandeep Singh was the hero once again  as India beat a spirited South Africa 4-2 to enter the final of the FIH Champions Challenge tournament.  In a rather fast-paced encounter, Sandeep's lethal penalty corner drag-flicks in the 44th and 49th minute respectively proved to be the difference in the end as the visitors beat the hosts   for a second time in just about a week. India had previously beaten the Proteas 7-4 in the preliminary stage of the  tournament.  In the day's other semi-final, Belgium beat Argentina 3-2 via a penalty shootout after scores were level at 2-2 in regulation period and extra-time. India and Belgium played out a 2-2 draw in a keenly contested encounter the preliminary stages of the tournament.

In the finals, it appeared for a major part as though India would prevail and win the championship but  India squandered a two-goal advantage and conceded a last-minute goal to lose 3-4 to Belgium.  Striker Florent van Aubel caught the Indian defenders off-guard and scored the all-important winner for Belgium at the stroke of the hooter to not only hand Belgium the gold medal but also a maiden place in next year’s Champions Trophy in Australia.  If they had won, they could have repeated the title win that they won in the inaugural year 2001.  
India’s goals came through penalty corner strikes from V R Raghunath (23rd minute), Sandeep Singh (39th) while Shivendra Singh (53rd minute) scored from a fine field goal.  With scores tied, the match seemingly was heading for extra time and more tension, but in the final minute of play Van Aubel scored to leave Indians shattered.

In the match of losing semi-finalists, South Africa prevailed 3-1 over Argentina to claim the bronze.   Argentina were the top ranked team. Malaysia secured the fifth spot, posting a 3-0 victory over Poland, while Japan finished seventh by outplaying Canada 7-2.

Elsewhere at Auckland, the Champions Trophy, the coveted event founded by Pakistan's Air Marshal Nur Khan, is on.   The tournament has been an annual affair since 1980 for men and since 1987 for women.

In the men's tournament, the Australians have won the trophy eleven, the Germans nine, and the Dutch eight times. Pakistan is the only Asian champion, with three titles to its name including the first two in 1978 and 1980.  The matches are played in  the year following the Olympics or a World Cup, the six teams include the host, the defending champion, the world champion and the next highest ranked teams from either the most recent World Cup or Olympic Games.  The last placed team in the tournament is dropped and replaced by the winner of the Champions Challenge, which was introduced in 2001 and can be considered as the Champions Trophy for so called B-nations.

The tournament now on is the 33rd edition and is known as Owen G Glenn FIH Men's Champions Trophy.  India was to host the tournament but  due to on-going governance issues with the Indian Hockey Federation, the FIH announced that India will no longer host the competition, instead; Auckland, New Zealand will host the tournament. New Zealand businessman Owen Glennwas instrumental in gaining the hosting rights for New Zealand. He funded Hockey New Zealand to gain the hosting rights.

Eight teams are in the fray – the qualification criteria being : 2010 WC Champions, 2008 Olympic Champions, 3rd in 2010 WC; 4th in WC; 5th in WC;  two invited Teams and the hosts – the Teams being :  Australia, Germany, Nederlands, England, Spain, Korea, Pakistan and New Zealand.  Due to heavy rains in Auckland, the games scheduled for Sunday, Dec 4th were rescheduled to Dec 5th.  

Michael Nobbs, is the present Coach of the Indian Hockey team.  A  centre-half for Australia in the early eighties,  Nobbs is credited with sharp eye and blistering speed.    Nobbs earlier  coached in Japan and his work at Tenri University helped raise Japan's stocks in world hockey a notch or two.  Nobbs was assistant coach of the Japan women's team in the nineties and returned as their chief coach for a year (2007-08).  He has been with the Indian team for the past few months and much is expected of him to raise the levels of Indian back to its earlier glorious heights.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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