India lift Champ's Challenge Trophy

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> India defeat South Africa 2-1 to clinch inaugural Champions Challenge Hockey trophy, book place for next year's Champions Trophy after a gap of 6 years.

Updated: February 25, 2007 08:37 IST
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Kuala Lumpur:

India, for once, lived up to its pre-tournament billing defeating South Africa 2-1 to clinch the inaugural Champions Challenge Hockey trophy and a place among the elite for next year's Champions Trophy after a gap of six years. With this victory, India registered their first big win at the senior level after the 1998 Asian Games gold medal and their first win here at this venue. The victory sends India to the 2002 Champions Trophy in Cologne, Germany. Skipper Baljit Singh Dhillon played his best match of the tournament and won the man-of-the-match award. India had 13 strikes at the South African goal but could put the ball in only twice. It showed the awesome superiority of the Indians but not without exposing their deficiencies in striking. India attacked from the word go with Baljit Dhillon, Dhanraj Pillay and Deepak Thakur severely testing the South African defence. The first opening came in the sixth minute when on top of the circle, Dhanraj Pillay turned and hit a reverse shot that just went over the post. The attacks continued with Sukhbir Singh Gill also coming up from midfield. In the 9th minute came the opening goal for India off a superb move. Baljit Dhillon seized the ball in the midfield and ran through the middle tapping it to Dhanraj Pillay who after entering the striking circle gave it to Deepak Thakur whose shot on the bounce beat South African goalkeeper Chris Hibbert. In the 11th minute, it could easily have been a second goal but India muffed the chance. India earned their first penalty corner in the 17th minute but Jugraj Singh's flick was deflected off a South African defender's stick. Minutes later, Dhanraj Pillay after making a run in the South African striking circle, was hit by the ball around the shoulder and had to be taken off. South Africa re-grouped as India's initial pace slackened. Baljit Dhillon fell back and with only Deepak Thakur and Gagan Ajit upfront, the space was created by South Africa who used it effectively and earned their first penalty corner in the 22nd minute, which was, however, wasted as the shot was delayed. Just a minute before the break, Thirumalvalvan went for the ball and made a stirring run but instead of giving the ball away, decided to go on his own. He was, however, stopped in the circle by the defence. At the break, India led 1-0. For five minutes into the second half, both teams restricted themselves to holding possession and trying to find a way of breaking each other's defence. In the 40th minute, Baljit Dhillon moved up and gave a superb pass to Daljit but he shot out wide. Two minutes later, Pillay was back after his shoulders had been taped heavily but he was wary of the tackles and was not the same throughout the second half. India earned two penalty corners in the 42nd and 43rd minutes but both were wasted as first Deepak and then Jugraj hit out. In the 50th minute, after yet another attack, India earned their fourth penalty corner but South African goalkeeper made a wonderful save. India finally increased the lead with their second goal in the 54th minute, which came off the fifth penalty corner. Baljit Dhillon passed to Jugraj for the hit but the ball got deflected and came back to Jugraj who gave it back to Baljit who was standing next to the goal. He then let fly a stinger that beat the South African 'keeper. India could have then increased the tally by at least four more goals but Deepak Thakur was the main culprit as he consistently hit the ball out even when he had only the 'keeper to beat. South Africa meanwhile stepped up the pressure, desperate to get a goal back. They succeeded in the 59th minute when Craig Fulton made a wonderful run into the Indian striking circle and gave it to Denzil Dolley who virtually slid into goal with the ball. South Africa suddenly took on the role of the aggressors as they earned two penalty corners in succession but luckily for India both the strikes deflected out. With four minutes to go and tension mounting on the Indian bench, South Africa earned their fifth penalty corner but Jugraj, rushing out, deflected the ball off his stick. The Indian bench rushed out as the hooter sounded signalling the second big triumph for India in international hockey and their first tournament victory here at the Bukit Jalil stadium. (PTI)

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