December 15, 2001

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India wins Champions Challenge trophy

India joined the elite top six in world hockey after emerging champions in the first men's Champions Challenge.

The eight-time Olympic champions now play in next year's Champions Trophy after a hiatus of six years, having last appeared in the 1996 edition in Madras.

India, who at one point in the tournament had been almost down and out, came back firing on all cylinders to beat South Africa 2-1 in a brash show of speed, flair and fluency.

Argentine goal machine Jorge Lombi destroyed Malaysia with four goals in a 4-2 win to clinch third placing for his team.

With this one-man demolition job, Lombi - who also scored all the goals in the 2-1 preliminary round victory over the home side - has become the scourge of Malaysia who seemed utterly incapable of stopping him.

Ironically, none of Lombi's six goals against the host nation came from his trademark penalty corner flicks. Instead, five were field goals with the other coming from a penalty stroke.

Chairil Anwar Aziz and Madzli Ikmar Nor accounted for Malaysia's goals.

In an earlier match, Japan grabbed 5th placing by overcoming Belgium 5-3.

India's victory margin should have been bigger

Commanding throughout, the Indians were simply overwhelming for much of the match and could have won by a huge margin if not for some wasteful finishing.

India's Deepak Thakur opened the scoring in the 9th minute following a brilliant attacking move involving three forwards exchanging passes inside the South African circle.

The Asians continued to press and repeatedly broached South Africa's backline with lightning speed and quick interchanges that had the defence straining at the seams.

India made it 2-0 in the 54th minute, captain Baljit Singh Dhillon, who was later adjudged the man of the match sounding the board after another penetration inside the South African circle.

The Africans pulled one back four minutes later in one of their rare attacks, Denzil Dolley deflecting in a cross from the left.

The goal handed the South Africans a lifeline and they earned two penalty-corners in the space of two minutes. But like all 10 short corners awarded to both sides during this match, they failed to yield any goals.

Late in the match, South Africa began to press for the equaliser and this in turn, opened the way for the Indian forwards to launch several raids. However, they failed to put the result beyond reach even in one-on-one situations with South African custodian Chris Hibbert.

India were the original host of the tournament, but they showed that they didn't need the advantage of playing on home soil.

India last won a gold medal in the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok while their last tournament victory in Malaysia was in 1995 when they defeated Germany 5-4 in the final.

Indian hockey is looking up again: K P S Gill

Meanwhile, the superb victory was greeted with jubilation in the sports circles back home.

"This is the beginning of an distinguished and exciting chapter in Indian sports history," a delighted Sports Minister Uma Bharti said.

The chapter opened last year with the stirring deeds of chess Grandmaster Vishwanathan Anand and badminton ace Pullela Gopichand, Bharti said.

She said Indian hockey is on the right track to regain its lost glory and promised the victorious team a warm reception on its return home.

Indian Hockey Federation president K P S Gill said, "It is an extremely satisfying result, much on expected lines."

After the junior World Cup victory, he said it was gratifying to note that the hard work put in by everyone 'is bearing fruit'.

"Indian hockey is looking up once again and we all must work hard to bring greater glory in the country's national game," Gill added.


INDIA: Jude Menezes, Lazarus Barla, Thirumal Valavan, Sukhbir Singh Gill, Dhanraj Pillay, Baljit Singh Dhillon, Jugraj Singh, Kanwalpreet Singh, Arjun Halappa, Deepak Thakur, Vikram Pillay (Prabhjot Singh, Daljit Singh Dhillon, Bipin Fernandez, Gagan Ajit Singh)

SOUTH AFRICA: Chris Hibbert, Warren Bond, Craig Jackson, Craig Fulton, Bruce Jacobs, Gareth Murray, Mike Cullen, Justin King, Kevin Chree, Brenton Key, Darryn Gallagher (Clyde Abrahams, Marvin Bam, Warren Bond, Ken Forbes, Denzil Dolley)

UMPIRES: Steve Graham (WAL), Sumesh Putra (CAN)

Images of the match
Champions Challenge - the complete coverage

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