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Argentina, India, New Zealand and Pakistan through to semi-finals in Salta
11 Dec 2022 00:21

Picture FIH / Matias Aguirre

Despite losing to arch-rivals Canada (2-3), Argentina qualified for the semi-finals of the BDO Champions Challenge in Salta, where they’ll joins India (winner over Belgium 4-2), Pakistan (who edged South Africa 4-1) and New Zealand (held to a 2-2 draw by China)..

Game 9 – Pakistan v. South Africa: 4-1 (half-time: 1-1)

There were high stakes in the first game of the day, Pakistan needing a win over South Africa to qualify for the semi-final! Pakistan pushed from the start but the first real chance was at the other end for South Africa with a penalty-corner. Soon after, Haseem KHAN received a long pass behind the defense, but could not unleash a shot before the defenders closed him down. 

Pakistan maintained their pressure and forced a penalty-corner. While everybody was expecting Sohail ABBAS to officiate, they tried a combination on the left that they could not conclude. New comer Umar BUTTA, playing only in his third game for Pakistan, had a golden opportunity alone in front of the goal-keeper, but his strong shot was brilliantly saved by Brendon BOTES in the South African goal.

South Africa was keeping their composure in defense, even when they were reduced to ten players with a yellow card to Jonathan ROBINSON, and did not leave any time or room to the Pakistani forwards, reduced to try and force penalty-corners. It is finally on their third one that Sohail ABBAS managed to slot the ball in the top corner to open the scoring.

The onus was now on South Africa to score to maintain their chance to reach the semi-final; they pushed forward as soon as they were back at full strength and immediately forced another penalty-corner, but to no avail. They maintained play in the Pakistani defensive zone and were rewarded just before half-time when Lloyd NORRIS-JONES received the ball at the top of the circle and crucified Salman AKBAR in goal.

With the score tied, everything was back to square one in second half. South Africa opted to press high, preventing the Pakistani midfield to launch attacks. They were only creating danger through the long runs of Shakeel ABBASI but his passes were wasted by his teammates’ unforced errors. With time passing, play became rougher and both teams were showed yellow cards. It is finally only in the 49th minute that Shakeel ABBASI decided to conclude himself one of his actions to break the deadlock. Haseem KHAN added a penalty-corner soon after and things suddenly looked brighter for the Green Shirts.

After a fourth goal to Pakistan by Akhtar ALI, the deficit was too steep for South Africa to climb back and Pakistan earned their berth in the semi-finals on Sunday, albeit with a lackluster performance.

Game 10 – New Zealand v. China: 2-2 (half-time: 0-1)

New Zealand were immediately on the attack, wanting to collect the three points that would qualify them for the semi-finals before the final game of pool A between India and Belgium. Their plan went immediately awry went China played quickly a free hit close to the circle and Xiantang LIU managed to deflect it in goal in the 4th minute of play. This seemed to take some wind out of the Black Sticks’ sails, play slowed down for a while and they missed two penalty-corners chances.

The Chinese players were closing down very quickly on the New Zealanders, efficiently keeping them out of the circle and cleverly defending some of the dangerous incursions by Phillip BURROWS and Simon CHILD. After a yellow card to Nicholas HAIG, China pushed forward more and Yi SONG nearly increased the score after a solitary raid amongst the defenders.

The final minutes of the period were exclusively played in the Chinese 25m but Rui XU was giant in the Chinese goal to keep the Black Sticks at bay and maintain the slim advantage going into the break. It is only in the 42nd minute that a good combination found Nicholas WILSON with some space on the penalty-stroke mark and he made no mistake to slot the ball in goal. Less than one minute later, New Zealand were in the lead, this time by Hugo INGLIS.

China were not down yet and came back level in the 57th minute with a well executed penalty-corner option concluded by Yixian LIU that left no chance to Kyle PONTIFEX in the Black Sticks goal. He nevertheless averted another goal a few minutes later to keep his team alive. New Zealand missed another penalty-corner late in the game and could have scored in a last second rush, but the two teams ended up tied, giving China their first point of the competition and New Zealand the point they needed to secure their berth in the semi-finals.

Game 11 – India v. Belgium: 4-2 (half-time: 2-2)

Both teams in this game could still hope to make it through to the semi-finals, with a slight advantage to India, only needing a draw to stay ahead of Belgium in the standings. The beginning of match was spirited, with chances at both ends, including a penalty-corner that India shot wide. India controlled most of the play, with Shivendra SINGH and Prabhjot SINGH very active upfront, but the Belgian defense held tight.

Prabhjot SINGH had a great opportunity after stealing a ball from Xavier RECKINGER in deep defense but his shot was just wide. India finally opened the scoring on a penalty-corner in the 19th minute, with a low flick by Dhananjay MAHADIK. They could have doubled their tally a few minutes later on another penalty-corner, but the initial shot was saved and Rajpal SINGH could not negotiate the rebound. Belgium reacted well and, after crashing a penalty-corner on the post, were soon in the lead with a penalty-stroke by Jerome DEKEYSER then less than one minute later by a field goal by Renaud PANGRAZIO!

The end of the period was all Indian, with a goal by Shivendra SINGH, left unmarked on the far post for an easy deflection and some spectacular action in front of David van RYSSELBERGHE in the Belgium goal. After an exciting half of hockey, the two teams went for the break back to back (2-2).

India missed a chance to break the deadlock early in second half on a penalty-corner, and the game continued back and forth at a high tempo, providing thrilling entertainment to the crowd. Tushar KHANDKER scored the go-ahead goal in the 48th minute, after a series of saved shots, but Belgium were not down yet and Adrian D'SOUZA had to pull a spectacular diving save, well appreciated by the crowd, to protect the Indian net. Belgium’s push, temporarily hindered by a yellow card to Cedric CHARLIER quickly balanced with one of the same color to Tushar KHANDKER, continued with the same intensity but the very focused Indian Team denied them until the end, scoring a last second goal by Prabhjot SINGH.

With the win, India won pool A in front on New Zealand, Belgium and China.

Game 12 – Canada v. Argentina: 3-2 (half-time: 0-0)

With Argentina already through to the semi-finals, the match was not of the outmost importance, but a game between the two Pan American rivals is always hotly contested and this one was no exception. The first chance was for Canadian Phil WRIGHT deflecting a ball towards goal from close range but Joaquin GONZALEZ ROTHBERG was ready in the Argentinean goal. Both teams were circulating the ball well in midfield but were avoiding committing and there were no clear chances in the first twenty minutes of play.

Tempo progressively increased, with some swift attacks on both sides. The Canadian were much more focused on their game than against South Africa and, under the stewardship of Rob SHORT, pushed hard in the final part of the period, but Argentina absorbed the pressure and the break was reached goalless.

Canada defended well the first penalty-corner of the match early in the second period and had two good chances at the other end for Connor GRIMES before finally forcing their first penalty-corner, well converted by Scott TUPPER in the 50th minute. That triggered a strong reaction from Argentina, vocally pushed by the local crowd, and they earned a series of penalty-corners. Dave CARTER saved superbly the first one but Pedro IBARRA made no mistake on the second one to tie the score.

The intensity of the debate went up a few notches in the last fifteen minutes of play and the umpires had to show cards to cool down the tempers. Connor GRIMES worked hard at the top of the circle to earn another penalty-corner, this time scored by Phil WRIGHT after a combination. Canada then survived a series of four penalty-corners but were finally overwhelmed, giving a chance to Pedro IBARRA to tie the game with one minute to go.

However the match was not over yet! Canada rushed back in action, swarming the Argentinean circle and forcing a penalty-corner on the buzzer! It was converted by Wayne FERNANDES and the Canadians once again managed to beat their arch-rivals, jumping ahead of South Africa in the standings of Pool B.

The BDO Champions Challenge continues on Saturday in Salta with the cross-over matches, when Belgium play South Africa and Canada meet China for the 5-8 group, before Argentina face New Zealand and India lock horns with Pakistan in the semi-finals.

For additional information, pictures, video clips, official game sheets, and more, please check the special FIH event microsite @ http://www.2022championschallengemen.sportcentric.com/.

BDO Champions Challenge I (men) – Salta, Argentina
Results Day 3: Thursday 10 December 2022

Pakistan - South Africa  4:1 (1:1)
PAK  20mn  Sohail ABBAS (PC)  1:0
RSA  33mn  Lloyd NORRIS-JONES (FG)  1:1
PAK  49mn  Shakeel ABBASI (FG)  2:1
PAK  53mn  Haseem KHAN (PC)  3:1
PAK  63mn  Akhtar ALI (FG)  4:1

New Zealand - China  2:2 (0:1)
CHN   4mn  Xiantang LIU (FG)  0:1
NZL  42mn  Nicholas WILSON (FG)  1:1
NZL  44mn  Hugo INGLIS (FG)  2:1
CHN  57mn  Yixian LIU (PC)  2:2

India - Belgium  4:2 (2:2)
IND  19mn  Dhananjay MAHADIK (PC)  1:0
BEL  24mn  Jerome DEKEYSER (PS)  1:1
BEL  25mn  Renaud PANGRAZIO (FG)  1:2
IND  30mn  Shivendra SINGH (FG)  2:2
IND  48mn  Tushar KHANDKER (FG)  3:2
IND  70mn  Prabhjot SINGH (FG)  4:2

Canada - Argentina  3:2 (0:0)
CAN  50mn  Scott TUPPER (PC)  1:0
ARG  54mn  Pedro IBARRA (PC)  1:1
CAN  62mn  Phil WRIGHT (PC)  2:1
ARG  69mn  Pedro IBARRA (PC)  2:2
CAN  70+mn  Wayne FERNANDES (PC)  3:2

Final Round-Robin Standings:
Pool A: 1) India 7 pts  2) New Zealand 5 pts   3) Belgium 3 pts  4) China 1 pt
Pool B: 1) Argentina 6 pts (+5)  2) Pakistan 6 pts (+2)   3) Canada 3 pts (-3)  4) South Africa 3 pts (-4)

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