(Photo: FIH)

At the BDO Champions Challenge in Salta, New Zealand triumphed over Pakistan after an excellent Final (4-2), India won the bronze with a last minute goal over Argentina (3-2), South Africa convincingly beat China for 5th place (5-0) while Belgium edged Canada (2-0) for 7th place.

Game 20 – Final – New Zealand v. Pakistan: 4-2 (half-time: 2-2)

Statistics between the two teams before this final (compiled by B.G.Joshi, Bhopal, India):
Matches played: 43 - Pakistan  won 34, New Zealand won 4 - 5 draws
Goals for Pakistan: 149 - Goals for New Zealand: 65
Biggest Wins for Pakistan: 12-3 in 1982 World Cup in Mumbai
Biggest Wins for New Zealand: 7-1 in 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games
Last played: 2009 Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh: New Zealand won 2-1 

The much expected Final between New Zealand and Pakistan, the top two ranked teams in the competition, started immediately at high pace. New Zealand had to concede a penalty-corner in the 7th minute, and Sohail ABBAS scored it dutifully although Kyle PONTIFEX got a piece of the shot. New Zealand replied with a penalty-corner of their own, using an option with Ryan ARCHIBALD deflecting on the post.

The game was back to square one and the initial nerves shaken. New Zealand then scored a sumptuous goal by Phillip BURROWS diving full length to deflect a cross from the left, then read well the second penalty-corner for ABBAS. Pakistan could not penetrate the compact New Zealand defense and tried to use long passes but they seldom came close enough to be dangerous, let alone win the coveted penalty-corner for ABBAS to officiate. It is finally in the last minute of the period that Rehan BUTT pounced on a ball in the crowded circle and acrobatically managed to shoot it out of reach of PONTIFEX.

Second half started under hot summer sun finally arrived over Salta. New Zealand were consistently dangerous upfront by Simon CHILD, Phillip BURROWS and Ryan ARCHIBALD, circulating the ball with speed and accuracy. Their best chance was for Nicholas WILSON, deflecting the ball from close range on the crossbar, but the score did not evolve. Pakistan had three additional unsuccessful penalty-corners then New Zealand scored two goals in quick succession in the last five minutes, first by Steven EDWARDS then Phillip BURROWS, both at the conclusion of fast offensive moves that swept away the Pakistani defense.

Sohail ABBAS missed another penalty-corner and New Zealand could soon celebrate their first Champions Challenge victory with their traditional haka.

Game 19 – 3rd-4th – Argentina v. India: 2-3 (half-time: 2-1)

Statistics between the two teams before this bronze medal match (compiled by B.G.Joshi, Bhopal, India):
Matches played: 41 - India won 24, Argentina won 14 - 3 draws
Goals for India : 104 - Goals for Argentina: 70.
Biggest Wins for India: 9-1in 1948 Olympics in London
Biggest Wins for Argentina: 5-1 in 2008 Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh
Last played: 2009 Test Series in Mar del Plata, last test won by Argentina 4-2.

The Bronze Medal game started with a long observation round between the two teams, neither giving away an inch in defense. Argentina had most of the ball control and were rewarded by a series of penalty-corner in the 20th minute, well defended by Sreejesh PARATTU in the Indian goal. On the second one, Pedro IBARRA collected the rebound but sent his shot in the clouds.  Finally, Facundo CALLIONI opened the scoring in the 22nd minute with a shot from a difficult angle, much to the loud satisfaction of the local crowd.

India tried to shift play into the Argentinean half, however CALLIONI hit again the target a few minutes later with a spectacular diving deflection. The end of period saw an intense Indian domination, but they could not get close enough to generate a decent chance, until the final second of play when they earned a penalty-corner. Vokkaliga RAGHUNATH converted it, reducing their deficit going into the break and possibly giving the momentum back to his team for the second period.

They did maintain their pressure for the first ten minutes of second half but could not shake the steady Argentinean defense of Pedro IBARRA, Fernando ZYLBERBERG and Ignacio BERGNER, well backed by Juan Tomas ESPINOSA in goal. Then Argentina progressively started to push forward again and created some good chances, including a spectacular reverse shot by Tomas ARGENTO that had the crowd on their feet. Nevertheless, India managed to tie the score by Gurbaj SINGH in the 54th minute after some excellent work along the backline by Tushar KHANDKER.

Having come back from two goals down, the Indians were on a role and monopolized the ball for long sequence of skillful plays. Shivendra SINGH had a good chance after collecting a long pass behind the defense, but it is finally on a penalty-corner by Dhananjay MAHADIK than they took the lead for the first time of the game in the… 69th minute. Argentina had a last chance on a penalty-corner, but Pedro IBARRA was not in a good day and  India collected the Bronze Medal of this Champions Challenge, much higher than their entry ranking in this competition (6th).

Game 18 – 5th-6th – South Africa v. China: 5-0 (half-time: 2-0)

The first dangerous action of the match was a penalty corner for China, played with an option brilliantly executed but even better defended by South Africa, with Vincent PRIOR in goal. The South Africans scored on the next play by Thornton McDADE to grasp control of the match. The Chinese played at their usual high pace but South Africa were matching them step for step, resulting in an entertaining game flowing back and forth, although with no goal scoring opportunities for a while.

Yi SONG had a superb chance when he received the ball alone at the top of the circle, but he was well closed down by goal-keeper Vincent PRIOR and his reverse stick shot went high. China had another chance on penalty-corner but South Africa defended it well again and… scored again on the next play, this time by Julian HYKES, to go into the break with a comfortable two-goal cushion.

South Africa scored two quick goals early in second period, first a penalty-corner by Justin REID-ROSS then a field goal by Gareth CARR, and the match was suddenly out of reach for China. Nothing was going right for them, they seemed to run out of steam, passes were going astray, they scrambled two more penalty-corners and could not avert a fifth goal by Austin SMITH in the 68th minute.. South Africa ran away with the win, finishing fifth, well above their entry ranking in this competition (8th).

Game 17 – 7th-8th – Belgium v. Canada: 2-0 (half-time: 1-0)

These two teams last met in their final match at the Beijing Olympics, with a decisive win for Belgium (3-0). Canada started tentatively and needed to be harangued by Rob SHORT to regroup and generate the first chance of the game, a penalty-corner shot wide by Scott TUPPER. Wayne FERNANDES and Ken PEREIRA also had dangerous shots on goal, but both teams were closing each other down in midfield. Belgium increased their pressure and often overwhelmed the Canadian defense, until Renaud PANGRAZIO and Alexandre DEPAEUW arrived alone in front of Dave CARTER in the Canadian goal to open the scoring in the 24th minute.

Canada reacted well and generated a few dangerous shots in the final stage of the period but, despite the support of their loyal group of fans in the stands, they could not close the gap before the break. The two teams had trouble putting structure into their game in second period, and often wasted their moves with unforced errors. The best chance was for Rob SHORT, receiving a pass on the post, but the ball eluded him. Belgium was more efficient at the other end and increased their lead by Renaud PANGRAZIO in the 50th minute.

Canada worked hard in the last quarter to salvage some pride but, with the fatigue of a hard week of hockey, were lacking the jump and rigor to really threaten the Belgium defense.

The BDO Champions Challenge I concluded in Salta with the victory of New Zealand, now qualified for the 2010 Champions Trophy in Monchengladbach (Germany). Sardar SINGH (India) was voted Player of the Tournament and Kyle PONTIFEX (New Zealand) was distinguished as Goal-keeper of the Tournament. 104 goals were scored during the 20 matches, 8 of them by Top Goal Scorer Pedro IBARRA (Argentina). The Fair Play Trophy was awarded to Argentina.

BDO Champions Challenge I (men) – Salta, Argentina
Results Day 5: Sunday 13 December 2009

(7-8) Belgium - Canada  2:0 (1:0)
BEL  24mn  Alexandre DEPAEUW (FG)  1:0
BEL  50mn  Renaud PANGRAZIO (FG)  2:0

(5-6) South Africa - China  5:0 (2:0)
RSA   8mn  Thornton McDADE (FG)  1:0
RSA  26mn  Julian HYKES (FG)  2:0
RSA  38mn  Justin REID-ROSS (PC)  3:0
RSA  42mn  Gareth CARR (FG)  4:0
RSA  68mn  Austin SMITH (FG)  5:0

(3-4) Argentina - India  2:3 (2:1)
ARG  22mn  Facundo CALLIONI (FG)  1:0
ARG  29mn  Facundo CALLIONI (FG)  2:0
IND  35+mn  Vokkaliga RAGHUNATH (PC)  2:1
IND  54mn  Gurbaj SINGH (FG)  2:2
IND  69mn  Dhananjay MAHADIK (PC)  2:3

(Final) New Zealand - Pakistan  4:2 (2:2)
PAK   7mn  Sohail ABBAS (PC)  0:1
NZL  15mn  Ryan ARCHIBALD (PC)  1:1
NZL  20mn  Phillip BURROWS  (FG)  1:2
PAK  35mn  Rehan BUTT (FG)  2:2
NZL  65mn  Steven EDWARDS  (FG)  3:2
NZL  66mn  Phillip BURROWS (FG)  4:2

Final Standings: 1) New Zealand (qualify for the 2010 Champions Trophy)  2) Pakistan  3) India  4) Argentina  5) South Africa  6) China  7) Belgium  8) Canada

Individual Awards:
Player of the Tournament: Sardar SINGH (India)
Goal-keeper of the Tournament: Kyle PONTIFEX (New Zealand)
Top goal scorer: Pedro IBARRA (Argentina), 8 goals
Fair Play: Argentina