India put up a gritty display but ended up on the losing side against World champions Australia in the final of the Champions trophy at London today. The Men in Blue ended regular time 0-0, but lost the penalty shootout 1-3 to miss out on the gold in their maiden Champions trophy appearance.
India came into the match still smarting from a demoralizing 2-4 loss to Australia in their final group match only yesterday but keen to get a big win under their belt before Rio 2016. Great Britain’s 3-3 draw with Belgium meant the Men in Blue had created history already, reaching a Champions Trophy final for the first time. World Champions Australia were coming into the match in good form, not losing even a single game in the group stages and held the psychological advantage after they had thrashed India a day before.
Australia’s penalty corner rush
The previous day appeared forgotten as both teams looked evenly matched at the start. India had a golden chance in the 8th minute with the Australian goal-keeper off his line, but Uthappa put it wide with a back-hand. Poor defending from the Indians gave Australia a chance in the 9th minute through a penalty corner, and three more penalty corners followed soon with only some on-the-line heroics from Sreejesh keeping the Aussies at bay. By the 12th minute, India had more possession and circle penetrations–a marked improvement from their performance yesterday. India got two penalty corners before the quarter ended, but the Aussie keeper kept them out. But India seemed the better team by then, often finding the world champions in awkward situations.
In the second quarter, the Aussies started off calmer than earlier, and their attack brought them a penalty corner which resulted in the ball hitting an Indian defender’s boot, stopping a clear goal chance. Up stepped Grovers in the 19th minute to take the penalty stroke awarded, only to put it well wide. Some quick exchanges followed, with both teams getting into good positions in the circle. A wonderful passing move put the Australians in a certain scoring position in 23rd minute, before Raghunath appeared to come out of nowhere to block the shot and put it out of play.
India’s clear attacking intent
The match seemed to be heating up, with some hard shoving and stares from both sets of players. Raghunath displayed some sturdy defending frustrating the Kookaburras time and again. A quick-counter attack from India involving SV Sunil and Akashdeep gave India their 3rd penalty corner, but a good stroke from Raghunath was kept out by the Aussie defense.
The teams trudged into the tunnel at half-time with the game scoreless, India just dominating the possession at 56% and 9 circle penetrations. Australia did take more shots on goal, but none of it mattered as the game seemed too tight to predict a winner at the halfway mark.
India started off the second half with the crowd well behind them. The intent was visible as they pushed the Kookaburras to defend desperately. The Australians managed to win a penalty corner in the 34th minute, but a slight variation in tactics refused to surprise the Indian defense.
Australia lose their cool
More and more heated exchanges followed, and Swann was punished for his harshness with a green card in the 37th minute. India took good advantage of the extra man, winning their 5th penalty corner, but they squandered it. Meanwhile, the Aussies seemed to be losing their cool, with another brash challenge by Mitton resulting in a yellow card, bringing the world champions to 9 men with 3 minutes to go in the quarter. But, India could not capitalise on the extra men, leaving it to the last quarter for the result to be decided.
There was not let-up in pressure from the Indians, with a good chance appearing in the 48th minute. But, the Australian keeper seemed to have drawn inspiration from his Indian counter-part, standing firm and keeping India away. Australia were down to 10 men for the last 10 minutes, but India failed to capitalize on it although they had the crowd firmly behind them, irrespective of country or colour.
But, a final ball seemed lacking for the Indians, as they looked unable to use the greater possession and circle penetrations to break the deadlock. Thimmiah was shown a controversial yellow card with 3 minutes remaining resulting in India having to see out the last few minutes with 10 men. Some desperate play from both teams was to no avail in the remaining minutes with the game remaining 0-0 until the end of normal time. The match was to be decided on penalties, with the crowd trying to put pressure on Australia, rooting for the Indians, who had played their hearts out.
Australia started the shoot-out putting the first stroke past Sreejesh, who had seemed impregnable through the night. The second stroke was controversial, and after Australia appealed for a video referral about Sreejesh’s determined keeping, a retake was awarded. The retake helped Australia take a 2-0 lead, with SK Uthappa and SV Sunil missing theirs. India’s hero of the day, Sreejesh incredibly saved Mitton’s stroke with his pads to keep India in the game in the third, and Young player of the tournament Harmanpreet Singh calmly converted for India making it 2-1. But Simon Orchard stepped up and slotted it past Sreejesh to make it 3-1, while Surender, entrusted with the unenviable task, shot wide.
With that, Australia clinched the Champions Trophy 2016 getting past a determined Indian performance. But more drama ensued as the Indian team appealed over the controversial second stroke by Australia. At present, the final decision is yet to be out with the officials engaged in intense closed-room discussions over the past hour.
Update : After discussing Australia's re-take of the second penalty, the jury decided there was an unintentional obstruction from goalkeeper Sreejesh and hence the re-take was justified. The result stood, Australia had won gold, and India had clinched it's first ever silver medal at the Champions Trophy.
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