BHUBANESWAR - Pakistan edged out hosts India 4-3 in a thrilling semi-final on Saturday to set up a Champions Trophy field hockey title clash against Olympic gold medallists Germany in Bhubaneswar. Arslan Qadir was Pakistan’s hero, scoring his team’s first goal and also netting the winner 90 seconds from the end to silence a partisan 7,000-strong Indian crowd at the Kalinga Stadium and was also declared man of the match.
The victory enabled coach Shahnaz Sheikh’s men to avenge the loss to their arch-rivals in the Asian Games final in South Korea in October that denied them a direct entry to the 2016 Olympics. The final on Sunday will be Pakistan’s first bid for a major world title since losing to the Netherlands in the Champions Trophy final in Lahore in 1998.
Germany quashed Australia’s bid to win a sixth successive title by ousting the world champions 3-2 in Saturday’s first semi-final. India took an early lead in the 12th minute when Gurjinder Singh converted the team’s first penalty corner with a drag flick. Pakistan drew level four minutes later as Qadir deflected in a pass from the right soon after Gurbaj Singh was shown the yellow card to reduce India to 10 men.
Muhammad Waqas seized on an opening by Qadir to put Pakistan ahead in the 32nd minute, but India ended the third quarter on level terms at 2-2 when Dharamvir Singh reverse hit a pass from Akashdeep Singh. A goal from either side in the fourth quarter made it 3-3 with eight minutes remaining and a swift counter-attack from Pakistan saw Qadir push in from close range past Indian goalkeeper Parattu Sreejesh.
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As the final hooter sounded, excited Pakistani players hugged each other, took off their shirts and waved them towards disappointed spectators in the stand. Shahnaz later walked out of the post-match press conference without answering questions after an Indian reporter questioned his players’ behaviour after the game.
The Germans, playing with seven junior World Cup winners of 2013, stunned the Kookaburras with two goals by the ninth minute through Timur Oruz and Mats Grambusch. They went up 3-0 immediately after half-time when Florian Fuchs took advantage of a goalmouth scramble and scooped the ball past Australian goalkeeper Andrew Charter.
Australia hit back in the 34th minute as Chris Ciriello banged in a penalty corner to net his fourth goal in the tournament. Nicholas Budgeon narrowed the margin further in the 42nd by scoring off a penalty corner rebound. Australia, who lost to Germany 4-2 the last time they met in the semi-finals of the 2012 London Olympics, failed to equalise despite benching the goalkeeper to accommodate an extra striker.
It will be Germany’s first Champions Trophy final since 2009 when they were beaten by hosts Australia 5-3 in Melbourne. German coach Markus Weise said he was happy — and also relieved — that his young side had reached the final after a poor sixth-place finish at the World Cup in June. “It is a very good thing to happen to the boys, they have proved themselves against the best,” Weise said. “We were lucky to be 3-0 ahead because the second-half belonged entirely to Australia. I am glad the boys fought it out till the end.”